Stepping into the breach on teacher ed training

By Ed Finkel

Community colleges help meet the national demand for K-12 teachers

The demand for teachers in the United States exceeded the supply by more than 100,000 in 2019 for the first time ever, according to the Washington-based Learning Policy Institute, and that was before the challenges of teaching during a pandemic and resulting burnout.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2016 that 270,000 primary and secondary teachers would exit the occupation each year through 2026, and the U.S. Education Department offers granular breakdowns of current teacher shortages by state, subject matter and discipline.

Community colleges are gearing up to meet that demand, launching or expanding teacher education programs that provide the first two years of training — or in some cases, all four — along with post-baccalaureate certificate credentials.

Doubling down in Dallas

The Dallas College School of Education started a bachelor’s degree program in 2020 for early childhood educators that enrolls those interested in everything from preschool to middle-school, aimed to help fill the projected 17,770 annual job openings for elementary and middle-school teachers in Texas. The program costs $79 per credit hour, and many school districts in the Dallas area provide starting salaries upward of $50,000, the college notes, which helps to not only expand but also diversify the workforce.

“We saw that there was an opportunity as a community college to raise our hand, say ‘This is a problem in our area,’ and [ask], ‘What role can we play in helping to solve it?’” says Robert DeHaas, vice provost for Dallas College School of Education, a newly created entity since the merger of the seven-college Dallas County Community College District.

DeHaas notes that the district had offered an associate degree in teacher education for a half-century, and that those interested in secondary education still can pursue an associate degree and transfer. The first cohort in the bachelor’s program began in fall 2020 with just under 250 students. The overall School of Education serves about 5,500 students, and DeHaas says the bachelor’s degree program eventually will have about 1,000 students.

In building its program, Dallas College has worked closely with school district partners to determine their individual hiring needs.

“We are not approaching it from the lens of, ‘We want to be a factory producing general teachers,’” he says. “District A’s teacher needs may be different from District B’s teacher needs. We are authentically engaging in a number of conversations with our school district partners to see how we can develop a robust talent strategy to meet their talent needs. That’s really the secret sauce.”

The college is also thinking about students’ trajectories, DeHaas says.

“We’re not just seeing shortages in full-time classroom teachers,” he says. “We’re seeing vacancies across so many different personnel — substitutes, teacher’s assistants, paraprofessionals. What we are doing is saying, ‘Are we able to meet all of those district needs in addition to building the capacity of a future teacher, so they can ultimately become that classroom teacher? How can we kill multiple birds with the same stone?’ … Sometimes it’s going to be out-of-the-box thinking.”

Partnerships with four-year institutions will continue to play a vital role, but the existence of Dallas College’s own bachelor’s degree program has opened the door to new conversations, DeHaas says. Those involve “challenging some preconceived notions, questioning things we’ve done in the past, and rooting it in this idea of having the same collective goal,” he says.

Specifics of these partnerships have included creative ideas like co-enrollment of associate degree students and earlier engagement with advisers and counselors for students planning to transfer, DeHaas says.

“It’s not an us vs. them,” he says. “It is, ‘Hey, we all play an important role in this space, and the more opportunities there are for us to collaborate, [the more] we will provide a more seamless academic experience for our students.’”

New pathways in Madison

In Wisconsin, Madison College signed an agreement with the University of Wisconsin’s (UW) School of Education in September to guarantee admission to aspiring elementary or special education teachers who meet the requirements, including a GPA of at least 3.0.

These students, who can apply to enroll starting in September 2022, also can become eligible for financial support, including in-state tuition and fees, testing and licensing costs, if they promise to work as a preK-12 teacher in the state for three to four years after graduation, through the UW-Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Program.

Wisconsin has faced a teacher shortage for several years that has become worse during the pandemic, as many of those who were thinking about leaving the profession reached an inflection point, says Penny Johnson, professor and coordinator of the education transfer program at Madison College.

“School districts have faced a pinch, with a really dire shortage,” she says.

While Madison College has offered transfer programs for decades, in 2018 for the first time the school began offering the first two years of a four-year education major, a/k/a a pre-major, Johnson says.

“Our transfer students were finding themselves behind, even though they had completed two years of college,” she says. “We really aligned ourselves so that when students transfer, they transfer as a true junior.”

Johnson is pleased with the support from UW-Madison, noting that Madison College hadn’t expected to strike an agreement that led to guaranteed admission.

“We said, ‘We have students transferring to you. What can we do to make it better, and easier and more supportive?’ That question led to this [agreement]. We didn’t know this was going to be the end result.”

In addressing the teacher shortage, as well as diversifying the teacher population, Madison College has created articulation agreements with a number of other four-year schools over the years, Johnson says. UW-Platteville, UW-Whitewater, Edgewood College and Lakeland University are among the most frequent transfer destinations.

“They can transfer anywhere,” she says. “It’s just a matter of working out the details.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Ed Finkel

is an education writer based in Illinois.