Addressing the Educator Pipeline Through Pathways and Partnerships

By Chris Times

September 26, 2019

A teacher looks at the camera while students work at desks in the background.

How can states ensure that all students have access to excellent educators? Wisconsin—with support from the Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC), Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center), and a number of regional partners—is taking action to make this happen.

In recent years, school districts in Wisconsin have reported shallow applicant pools for various positions, and the state has experienced critical shortages of teachers in certain disciplines. To address these challenges, MWCC suggested that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) explore “grow your own” (GYO) programs, which promote the vision for teacher candidates to become teachers in the communities where they grew up. GYO programs may focus on providing assistance to (a) high school students who may be interested in pursuing a career as a teacher; (b) teacher candidates participating in educator preparation programs (EPPs); and (c) new teachers or paraprofessionals interested in becoming teachers who may need professional development, mentoring, coaching, assistance with credentialing processes and requirements, or other support.

The foundation for MWCC’s recommendations for Wisconsin comes from the work of the GTL Center at the American Institutes for Research. The GTL Center’s recent work has focused on addressing teacher shortages and strengthening educator pipelines through evidence-based talent management strategies and tools. GTL Center toolkits address equitable access, mentoring and induction, teacher leadership, diversifying the educator workforce, and educator shortages in special education. “It’s important for states to work with their local districts and educator preparation partners to find talent management strategies that address their local context and needs,” says Lindsey Hayes, educator shortages project lead for the GTL Center. “Wisconsin has carefully considered how GYO programs can strengthen their pipeline and address shortages, particularly in high-need urban and rural areas.”

For the past 2 years, MWCC has provided support to DPI through the Educator Career Pathways in Wisconsin project. “The first year, we worked with DPI on deciding the best way to go about creating new GYO programs and supporting GYO programs already up and running,” says Marjorie Cohen, project co-lead and senior TA consultant with MWCC and the GTL Center. “DPI established a statewide Educators Rising office during Year 1, and staff from DPI’s Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Licensing office worked with the Career and Technical Education team in DPI to discuss educator career pathways,” she explains. Cohen and Beth Ratway, project co-lead and senior TA consultant with MWCC, coordinated MWCC’s work with DPI and representatives from a number of high schools, local education agencies (LEAs), and representatives from institutions of higher education.

During the second year of this project, the focus was on equity, namely, increasing access to excellent teachers, particularly for students of color and those who may be underserved. To accomplish this, MWCC worked with DPI to utilize PK–16 regional partnerships as a way to bring EPPs and districts together to address educator pathways (various methods for obtaining licensure). The goals were twofold: (a) assist DPI in establishing a pipeline of teachers that increases parity between the percentage of teachers of color and students of color and (b) build DPI’s capacity to provide ongoing support to the PK–16 regional councils that it had established.

In consultation with the GTL Center, MWCC served as a thought partner and provided content expertise in regular meetings with DPI staff and its partners. This work centered on helping DPI to create and implement a strategic plan for its PK–16 regional councils, which included the following:

  • Providing aligned and integrated support for creation of the regional councils
  • Scaling up existing educator career pathways and GYO programs across the state
  • Facilitating three pilot regional councils to provide a model for other regions
  • Codeveloping a plan and a process for supporting development of additional regional councils that bring together EPPs, cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs), and school districts in a strategic, effective way

Based on the strategic plan, MWCC helped DPI to create three regional councils—the Greater Madison PK–12 Regional Council (the pilot regional council), the Milwaukee Public Schools and Racine Unified School District Regional Council, and the Wisconsin Rural Council. These councils included representatives from DPI, CESAs, high schools, school districts, and more than 18 colleges and universities across the state.

During monthly meetings, the work of the regional councils included the following:

  • Identifying teacher competencies based on Wisconsin’s teacher standards
  • Building flexible pathways for high school students and paraprofessionals to become certified teachers
  • Developing dual credit courses on Education in Democracy, Educational Psychology, and Diverse Learners with high school and prep program faculty
  • Examining pipeline challenges in the councils’ respective regions
  • Enhancing the public’s perception of the teaching profession
  • Exploring one-year GYO residency programs
  • Working with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to improve the pipeline of teachers of color
  • Determining effective ways to continue to support new teachers and other teachers with emergency licenses
  • Considering ways to assist prospective teachers in graduating from EPPs without debt
  • Providing more complete data to EPPs, districts, and decision-makers regarding the educator supply and demand in rural districts
  • Supporting regional efforts especially through CESAs and approved programs to make pathways to licensure more accessible to rural areas
  • Identifying best practices for retaining teachers

Through pathways and partnerships, DPI has made significant progress in improving the educator pipeline in Wisconsin. The Madison Regional Council reported that it has successfully established ongoing communication and collaboration processes with EPPs and LEAs and is working toward autonomy from DPI. The council also reported progress on enhancing or creating educator career pathways in its region. In addition, DPI staff members reported increased preparation to establish PK–16 councils in Wisconsin. “Our work with MWCC has allowed me to support the development of regional councils focusing on building partnerships between postsecondary, K–12, DPI, and CESAs,” says DPI’s David DeGuire, Director, Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Licensing. “MWCC support was critical to the successful development of three councils across Wisconsin,” he explained.

To culminate this project, MWCC is developing a Google Docs site to house lessons learned regarding addressing educator pipeline challenges, best practices collected throughout Wisconsin (based on a statewide scan), and guidance on how to start a regional council. The site will be available to DPI and its partners in September 2019. To learn more about this project, please contact project co-leads Beth Ratway, MWCC (bratway@air.org), or Marjorie Cohen, MWCC/GTL Center (mdcohen@air.org).