Executive Perspective

Finding Personnel Answers in a New Workforce Model
BY DANIEL A. DOMENECH/School Administrator, June 2022

AS I MET WITH superintendents this past school year, the teacher shortage loomed high among the problems they identified, in addition to the effects of the pandemic on school openings and closures and the wearing of masks and vaccinations. At times, the ability to have students in school in person was negated by the lack of personnel.

The teacher shortage is not new, but it has been exacerbated by several factors: the stress teachers endure due to pandemic-related controversies, job offers from the private sector with higher pay and less stress, and the politicizing of education on issues like critical race theory and banning of library books.

In the first year of the pandemic, educators were considered heroes, but an abrupt reversal has occurred. Parents are angry at teachers who refuse to come to work due to COVID-related issues or who participate in labor disputes over pay and working conditions.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reported a 23 percent decline in the completion of teacher preparation programs between 2007 and 2016. A recent survey by the National Education Association found 55 percent of its members indicated they are more likely to retire at the end of this school year due to pandemic-related pressures.

Stimulating Pipelines

Education workforce problems extend beyond shortages. Diversity also is lacking. At a time when the majority of public school students are students of color, 79 percent of teachers are white. Similar statistics exist for administrative positions beyond the classroom.

Attempts to stimulate the education workforce pipeline abound, including better pay and working conditions, scholarships and incentives, and “grow your own” programs. With superintendents of color making up fewer than 6 percent of the national picture, AASA has been offering aspiring superintendent programs through our urban academies and programs for Hispanic and women leaders.

Carole Basile, dean of the education college at Arizona State University, writing in School Administrator (March 2022), proposes what she refers to as the Next Education Workforce. She does not believe a teacher shortage exists, saying there are plenty of certified teachers out there, just not in the classroom. She believes the current one-teacher, one-classroom model asks too much of teachers. Add issues of pay and working conditions as contributing factors to why many teachers are leaving the profession and fewer individuals seek to enter it.

Basile’s solution: Redesign the delivery of instruction from an individual to a team of paraeducators, community volunteers, student teachers, teachers and lead teachers. The team would work with an expanded number of students with the work of the traditional teacher distributed among the group. This Next Education Workforce model is being piloted in several school systems in Arizona and other states.

One of the school systems is Mesa Public Schools, Arizona’s largest school district with 64,000 students. I recently spoke to superintendent Andi Fourlis about the district’s progress. Staffing issues and working conditions have been a problem for Mesa, and she saw the Next Education Workforce as a solution. Twenty-one of her schools, where the principals were receptive, are implementing the program. To date, staff satisfaction is high and students believe they are surrounded by caring and responsible adults. She sees principals as pivotal for creating the new culture when adults are not accustomed to working as a team.

Parental response is favorable and supportive, though some still want to know “who is my child’s teacher?” Because of the team approach, the participating schools were not affected by staffing shortages and they remained open for in-person instruction. Fourlis has a goal that 50 percent of schools will be using this model by 2023 with expansion continuing across the district over the next five years. The pilot schools have shown growth in academic performance, particularly in reading.

AASA’s Coming Cohort

AASA, in partnership with Arizona State University, will launch a Next Education Workforce cohort this fall. If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then this is the opportunity for schools around the country to consider redesigning how they deliver instruction. An expanded team could include individuals who want to be teachers, community volunteers who can share expertise with students and other school personnel not traditionally in the classroom. They will all be there to support the teacher and the students, an idea certainly worthy of consideration. In Mesa, the idea is becoming reality.
DANIEL DOMENECH is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASADan