Now more than ever, the nation’s outlook for the future is tied to the strength of the education profession. Our economic prosperity, the health of our democracy and civic society, and our ability to meet the challenges of climate change and the information age depend on our students having access to well-prepared and supported educators who reflect the diversity of the students they serve.
The gap between the demographic makeup of the student body and the education profession is widening. Despite the fact that over 50% of students are people of color and that multiple studies have shown that racial diversity among educators and peers can provide significant benefits to students, a 2016 U.S. Department of Education report showed that 82% of public school teachers identified as white, a figure that had barely changed since 2000. That same year, 22% of public school principals were individuals of color, including 11% who identified as Black and 8% who identified as Hispanic.
Today, the profession faces great uncertainty. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 270,000 teachers are expected to leave the field each year between 2016 and 2026. And a December 2021 survey by NASSP found that job satisfaction among school leaders is at an ultimate low, with nearly 4 out of 10 principals (38%) expecting to leave the profession in the next three years.
The pandemic has only accelerated this trend and exacerbated the challenges confronting educators and schools. At the same time, enrollment in educator preparation programs is plummeting. Between 2010 and 2019, enrollment in traditional bachelor’s degree programs fell by 35%. School districts across the nation are struggling to fill positions, and principals have become the emergency responders, pitching in to teach classes and even driving school buses amid staff shortages.
We can no longer afford to neglect the educator pipeline. We need a national investment to mobilize and support states and local communities in recruiting and retaining educators so that all schools have the diverse, profession-ready teachers, principals, librarians, counselors, and other specialized instructional support personnel they need to support student development and academic achievement. The EDUCATORS for America Act can provide the blueprint for strengthening this pipeline.
Legislation We Need Now
In December 2021, I introduced the EDUCATORS for America Act along with Senator Bob Casey and Representatives Alma Adams, Jahana Hayes, Cindy Axne, and Ruben Gallego. The Act calls for a $1 billion annual investment in the educator pipeline, divided evenly between state capacity building and direct support for educator preparation programs and partnerships with high-need school districts. It addresses the full educator pipeline, from early outreach and career exploration to financial assistance and wrap-around supports for those pursuing education careers to clinical preparation for teachers, principals, and other educators to faculty development, all with a focus on ensuring equity and diversity.
Funding for states will support an assessment of their teacher, school leader, principal, and other educator workforce needs and the capacity of existing educator preparation programs to meet them. States will then work with stakeholders on a plan of action, which may include strengthening certification and licensure requirements, regularly sharing workforce needs with educator preparation programs, providing grants to support induction programs, supporting professional development, developing career ladders for educators, offering statewide pre-service residencies for teachers and principals, and offering technical assistance for improving educator preparation programs. The bill also calls for greater transparency, streamlining the data and reporting requirements to focus on key measures related to teacher education program quality and addressing identified workforce needs.
Funding for institutions will expand and strengthen Teacher Quality Partnership grants between institutions of higher education and high-need school districts. The Act will make targeted investments in educator preparation programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and institutions serving Hispanic students, Native American students, and other students of color, recognizing the crucial role these institutions play in promoting diversity in the teaching profession. Additionally, the Act will provide grants to build the capacity of institutions of higher education and educator preparation programs to support principal and school leader development, faculty preparation and professional development, and ultimately strengthen the educator pipeline through technology and workforce partnerships.
Just as important, the EDUCATORS for America Act will reduce financial barriers for individuals pursuing careers in education. The legislation will double the value of the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant to $8,000 per year and provide greater flexibility for meeting the service requirements. The Act will also establish a new monthly credit for teachers, principals, and other educators toward repayment on their student loans, so they earn loan forgiveness as they serve rather than having to watch their loan balances stagnate or grow for five to 10 years before receiving any benefit.
In developing this legislation, my colleagues and I turned to the people on the front lines of this crisis: the teachers, principals, specialized instructional support staff, educators in teacher preparation programs, education professors in institutions of higher education, advocates for students with disabilities, and professionals in civil rights organizations. The EDUCATORS for America Act reflects their input about what is needed to recruit, prepare, and support educators. They are the experts, and we must listen to them.
Jack Reed is the senior U.S. Senator from Rhode Island, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee.
The Century Foundation. (2019, April 29). The benefits of socioeconomically and racially integrated schools and classrooms. tcf.org/content/facts/the-benefits-of-socioeconomically-and-racially-integrated-schools-and-classrooms
Hughes, T. (2021, November 11). ‘Stretched too thin’: With staff ‘exhausted,’ schools cancel class or return to remote learning USA Today. usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/11/11/public-school-teachers-students-demand-extra-days-off-covid-19/6372122001/?gnt-cfr=1
Lin, P. (2021, November 6). Administrators stepping in as substitute teachers as school districts grapple with shortages. Kitsap Sun. kitsapsun.com/story/news/2021/11/06/substitute-teacher-shortage-north-central-kitsap-limits-some-school-district-leaders-ability-support/6253079001
National Association of Secondary School Principals. (2021, December 8). NASSP Survey Signals a Looming Mass Exodus of Principals From Schools. nassp.org/news/nassp-survey-signals-a-looming-mass-exodus-of-principals-from-schools
National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Condition of education. nces.ed.gov/programs/coe
National Center for Education Statistics. (2021, May). Racial/ethnic enrollment in public schools. nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cge
Raine, C. (2021, September 28). The teachers are not alright. encoura.org/the-teachers-are-not-alright
U.S. Department of Education. (2016, July). The state of racial diversity in the educator workforce. www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racial-diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pdf
Sidebar: Advocate For The Educators for America Act
School leaders, visit nassp.org/e4a and urge your members of Congress to support the EDUCATORS for America Act. This vital legislation will help alleviate teacher and principal shortages and strengthen the educator workforce pipeline.