NSights Blog

The long and short of the Nevada teacher pipeline

As a state we need to focus on both short- and long-term solutions for the sake of our schools, our children, our economy, and our future.

Nevada's teacher pipeline and shortage situation has certainly been in the news lately.  Short-term solutions that will put teachers quickly into classrooms are important in addressing the teacher shortage, as are long-term solutions that stabilize and sustain the teacher pipeline. In the Clark County School District (CCSD), almost 1,000 classrooms operated without licensed teachers at the beginning of this school year. In northern Nevada's Washoe County School District (WCSD), the biggest employer of our college's teacher graduates and one of our closest partners, there were 40 classrooms without teachers. As a state we need to focus on both short- and long-term solutions for the sake of our schools, our children, our economy, and our future. We are fortunate to have a governor and legislators that care deeply about education and about youth in our state.  We in the College of Education are actively contributing to both the short-term and the long-term solutions to today's challenges. 

Short-Term Solutions

Primarily in response to the teacher shortage situation in Clark County School District, the governor, legislators, the Nevada Commission on Professional Standards and the Nevada Department of Education have recently introduced and approved programs for alternative route to licensure (ARL) and emergency provisional licensure. Yes, standards have been adjusted to allow for individuals to enter these tracks, but these options serve as an immediate improvement to the teacher shortage and are time limited, with one year for provisional licensure and three years for ARL. Our college is closely partnering with WCSD to offer these teachers highly effective coursework, mentoring, scaffolding, and professional development as they move forward. There are other short-term solutions as well, included below.

Fast Track Teacher Education Programs
Fast-track post-baccalaureate teaching programs attract eligible persons holding a bachelors degree who then complete coursework and clinical experiences (e.g., student teaching), typically within one year- before entering the teaching profession. At UNR we have these fast track options for both elementary and secondary education.

Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL)
Alternative route to licensure programs, as mandated by legislation and regulated by the Commission on Professional Standards, create the opportunity for an eligible person holding a bachelor's degree to enter teaching after an initial orientation, with the expectation of on-going training and coursework. These teachers must complete licensure requirements within three years.

Emergency Provisional Licensure
The Governor recently approved an emergency regulation for provisional licensure. This regulation allows for candidates who are close to meeting state requirements for teacher licensure to receive a license, with one year given to complete all missing requirements. Applicants for provisional licensure may be missing any of the following: (a) up to 6 credits of coursework required for licensure, (b) initial or advanced passing competency test scores, or (c) student teaching.

Long-Term Substitutes
Another short-term response to the teacher shortage is the hiring of long-term substitutes.  The strength in this strategy is that long-term substitutes have typically already been vetted by districts.  That said, the preparation of long-term substitutes varies widely, from limited preparation to fully certified teachers from other states who are missing a few Nevada requirements. 

Early Childhood Education
A major state priority now is early childhood education, with the passing of recent legislation and the state's receipt of a large federal grant.   We in the College of Education at UNR have undertaken a unique partnership with the Washoe County School District by providing early childhood education licensure courses to a cohort of existing teachers, thus providing them with the critical training needed to promote a strong learning foundation to students in pre-K through 3rd grade.

Long-Term Solutions

Increased Emphasis on Recruitment of Teacher Education Majors
Over the course of the past 100 years, teaching has been held as an honorable profession.  However, in the past two decades the field of teaching has come under great scrutiny, leading many students with the potential to be excellent teachers to avoid committing to a career as a teacher.  This challenge is to some extent outside the influence of teacher education, and must be addressed by all of us as citizens of our community and our state.  We must bring back into our conversations the respect and admiration for the work and dedication of our P-12 teachers, administrators and staff, making teaching a top-choice field for the best and the brightest. At UNR we are honoring the profession of teaching through our Community University School Partnership (CUSP) initiative with its annual showcase, and through our awards given to first generation students made possible by our generous donors. We are also aggressively marketing the message that teachers count.   From UNR's position, we are catalyzing our efforts to recruit and promote the retention of excellent potential teachers through our extensive admissions and monitoring processes.

Our priorities in the College of Education also lie with developing innovative ways of addressing essential regional needs in northern Nevada. With the arrivals of Tesla and Switch and the resulting influx of employment opportunities, P-12 student enrollment is anticipated to climb. As a result, we are increasing our focus on providing more teachers in high-need areas in P-12 education. This past fall, we launched NevadaTeach*** in partnership with the College of Science, which allows undergraduates seeking a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) major to earn a dual degree in secondary education. We have to date tripled the pipeline of secondary STEM teachers. We have many more projects underway that are addressing other critical areas in P-12, among them special education, early childhood education, school counseling, and English language learning.

Increased Teacher Retention
While recruitment of high quality teachers is essential, retention of these teachers in the field is an equally important component of addressing the teacher shortage. Alarmingly, statistics show that as many as 45% of teachers leave the field within five years. Teachers who are motivated to teach and have been well prepared, however, tend to remain in the field. The motivated, committed, and well-prepared graduates of our undergraduate and post-graduate programs are making lifelong careers in education. Over the last two years, at least 358* of our program completers were hired by Nevada school districts, with 239 hired by WCSD alone. One key indicator of the quality of teacher preparation programs is the attrition rate of first-year teachers. After the 2014-15 school year, the attrition rate of WCSD first-year teachers prepared at UNR was only 2%, compared to 7% of graduates not from UNR. The national average of first-year attrition is 10%**.

Innovative Principal Training
In 2017, we are rolling out a new innovative principal-training program (NevadaLeads) in collaboration with WCSD, designed to meet the need for leaders of contemporary schools.  We are closely partnering with WCSD to develop a program that will prepare future principals and education leaders with a heavy emphasis on mentorship, 21st century leadership skill development, and embedded field experiences.

Using Data to Reinvent Teacher Education Programs
The public has a right to ask hard questions about the quality of teaching.  We need to respond respectfully and produce data on different teacher preparation avenues that can be used for continuous improvement and state funding decisions.  On the national level, I am a member dean of Deans for Impact, a collaborative research organization that is leading the effort to encourage increased data-driven decision-making in teacher preparation programs across the country. With member deans from prominent national universities including Johns Hopkins, University of Southern California, Arizona State University, and University of Chicago, among others, Deans for Impact is actively making an effort to drive policy that will allow for data-share agreements between teacher preparation programs and P-12 schools, so that teaching programs will be better informed about the long-term quality and effectiveness of their graduates. In our College of Education, the data-share agreement we've established with WCSD over the past few years has already proven to be vital in advising our continuous improvement.

Simply put, the teacher preparation solutions described here are all very different entryways into the teacher pipeline. I can tell you that our outcome data here at UNR's College of Education on teacher retention and performance in the field speaks to our programs here at UNR, demonstrating significantly positive results in the long-term.

I'm fully aware that the points above may not address the concerns of parents who in five months will be bringing their children to school for a new academic year.  I am a parent of a young adult.  Dropping her off at school and conferencing with her teachers is seared in my mind as some of the most vulnerable and important moments of my life.  I felt that it was my responsibility, and I know you share this belief, to work with my daughter's teacher to provide her with the best school experience possible.  My recommendations to you are to work with the school, share any concerns you may have, and meet and get to know your child's teacher, regardless of the route they took to get there.

More tips  on getting involved in your child's education.

*** More information on NevadaTeach.
* Data not provided by Churchill, Elko, and Lander school districts
** Center for American Progress

Ken Coll is dean and a professor of counseling education for the University's College of Education. Much of Coll's career and research have focused on educational psychology and counseling, specialties that overlap with student development at all levels from pre-kindergarten through higher education. Coll spent nearly a decade working as a counselor in higher education settings early in his career before joining the University of Wyoming, followed by Boise State University, where he coordinated the Educational Psychology and Counseling Programs and directed the Chemical Abuse Resource Centers.

Ken Coll