Penn State releases findings in study of teacher staffing challenges

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania State University released its findings in a comprehensive study on the “severe teacher staffing challenges” across Pennsylvania.

For the first time in the state’s history, more teaching positions have been filled by teachers on emergency permits instead of newly certified teachers. There has been a drastic increase over 10 years.

“You can actually get an emergency certification without a teaching degree,” said the superintendent of Aliquippa School District, Phillip Woods. “If we can’t find a certified qualified teacher, then the state allows you to enact emergency certification.”

The main cause of the teacher shortage? The study states there aren’t as many newly certified teachers, because there has been a greater than 60% drop in those graduating with a teaching degree in Pennsylvania.

“We are definitely not getting the same number of applicants that we used to get,” said the superintendent of Butler Area School District, Brian White. “The real challenge right now is that we are not seeing the number of substitutes available for long-term openings that we used to be able to count on.”

Across the state, there’s a need for teachers in special education, English, math, science and foreign languages; and in positions in middle schools and high schools.

What’s a possible solution? Starting next fall, the University of Pittsburgh is launching a brand-new secondary education certification program to help fill future teaching positions.

“We are not just trying to create this program to increase the amount of teachers,” said University of Pittsburgh visiting assistant professor Tom Ralston. “We also want to have an impact in providing equitable learning opportunities.”

Ralston was the former superintendent at Avonworth. He’s also the director of the Forum for Western Pennsylvania School Superintendents. The Forum is an organization that supports more than 50 superintendents across western Pennsylvania, helping them tackle problems like staffing.

“The focus of our program is on justice and equity. It’s not just about learning to be a great teacher but also supporting all students so that they have access to great learning opportunities,” said Ralston.

The University of Pittsburgh is taking applications for the new program.

Click here to see the entire Penn State study.

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