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Opinion: How UNI and Others are Confronting the National Educator Workforce Crisis

Reversing the Trend of a Declining Educator Workforce is Going to Take a Bold National Strategy

Mark NookThis article originally appeared in the Des Moines Register and is reprinted with permission.

Our nation’s economic prosperity, global competitiveness, and civic vitality rely on a strong educational system. As the leading producer of educators in the state of Iowa, at the University of Northern Iowa we know a highly qualified and diverse educator workforce is critical for preparing each generation to lead their workplaces and communities while serving as role models at home.

Yet, our nation’s educator pipeline is hemorrhaging at both ends. On one end of the pipeline, the U.S. Department of Education recently found that nearly one in five new educators leave the teaching profession within the first five years of practice, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects more than a quarter million teachers to leave the profession over the next half decade.  On the other, colleges and universities that prepare the next educator workforce are seeing a 30%decline in the number of future educators enrolled in high-quality preparation programs. While alternative certification has been one proposed solution to this issue, these programs could only compensate for one-quarter of the enrollment loss experienced by colleges and universities; furthermore, alternative pathways have seen a 35% decline in participation in five years and those who become alternatively certified experience a 33% higher rate of early departure than graduates of traditional educator preparation programs.

Compounding the shortage is an absence of representation in the demographic diversity of our nation’s educator workforce. 

For a vibrant and functioning society, we must confront the workforce crisis facing our nation’s schools and communities. That is why the University of Northern Iowa has joined three leading national organizations and a bicameral coalition in the United States Congress to revitalize the federal role in educator preparation — one that also recognizes and honors state and local control in the birth-to-12th-grade educational system. The University of Northern Iowa, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the Teacher Education Council for State Colleges and Universities are proud to be working with Sen. Jack Reed, Congresswoman Alma Adams, Congresswoman Cindy Axne and a growing congressional coalition to confront this national crisis through the introduction of Educators for America, a comprehensive national investment in our future through the growth, diversification, retention, and support of a diverse and profession-ready educator workforce. 

We believe that states should decide how to confront teacher shortages and other critical challenges facing their educator workforce, and we propose a framework that would enable states to confront their target areas. We believe four-year institutions should also be incentivized to develop new and innovative pathways with community colleges, school districts, and local educational agencies focused on bringing educators into the pipeline who have traditionally not had access due to financial limitations or other constraints. We believe that future educators need adequate financial assistance to gain initial and subsequent credentials to teach critical subject areas and the flexibility to re-enter the educator workforce if they need to depart for reasonable life circumstances. Because education is a profession, and the work of educators is so critical to our society’s strength, we recognize the importance of accountability and stewardship on the part of institutions to prepare the profession-ready educator workforce our schools so desperately need.   

Reversing the trend of a declining educator workforce is going to take a bold national strategy. The national investment outlined in Educators for America, a grassroots framework informed through national consensus, offers a critical step forward in growing, diversifying, and retaining the educator workforce we need for a strong and vibrant nation now and for generations to come. 

Mark A. Nook is president of the University of Northern Iowa.

Visit AACTE’s Action Center to learn more about how to Urge Your Members of Congress to Co-Sponsor the Educators for America Act.

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