Envisioning a 21st-century education workforce


Carole Basile

This article is the second in a series on reimagining the 21st-century college of education by Carole Basile, dean of ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Read the introduction to this series, Reimagining the college of education for the 21st century, and the third installment, Community Design Labs.

Across the United States, communities are grappling with a crisis commonly referred to as a “teacher shortage.” An increasing number of teachers are leaving the profession before retirement. Schools struggle to attract and retain talent. Teacher prep programs are staring at a decline in enrollment. A 2016 report issued by the Learning Policy Institute predicts that, by 2020, the country is likely to have a demand for more than 300,000 new teachers and a supply of fewer than 200,000.

As it is, few would argue that our education system reliably does what we need it to do for nearly enough people and communities. Pick a metric: student achievement scores, the U.S. PISA rankings relative to other countries, dropout rates, college attendance or persistence, equity across geographic and socioeconomic demographics, happiness. Pick any or all of them. We can and should do better.

Given the inconsistent performance of our schools and the acute crisis in the education labor supply, those of us who work in school systems and colleges of education need to ask some tough questions. What does good education look like in the 21st century? What kind of talent is required to deliver it and how should that talent be deployed? If we’re not getting the workforce we want, we probably need to reimagine the profession, the workplace and how we prepare people for both.

There are many pain points that discourage people from considering careers in education. If you can accept the pay scale, ignore a certain kind of social condescension and find your way through thickets of bureaucracy, there remains the fact that the job itself is harder than it used to be. The one-classroom-one-teacher model in which so many educators still operate does not always work.

We can’t expect every educator to do everything all the time and be all things to all people. Not every educator needs to be a content expert and a pedagogical rock star (and an expert in learning disabilities, classroom management, developmental psychology and cultural context). Our communities are rich in experienced adults who have significant content knowledge in science or writing or coding but who may lack the instructional skills of career teachers. Our schools have professional teachers who are classroom maestros but may not be up on the latest domain knowledge in biology or the latest workplace applications of a given technology. Our kids will do better if our schools develop more ways to accommodate a workforce with distributed skills and areas of expertise. How can we think creatively about deploying teams of people, full-time and part-time, in our schools?

The talent pool includes young millennials and post-millennials, demographics that tend to demand a work environment characterized by qualities that education is not generally perceived as providing. They want flexibility and the freedom to think and act creatively as individuals and in teams.

The talent pool also includes people looking for encore careers. We see great educators who used to be mechanics, soldiers, marketers, engineers, retailers and chefs. Clearly, we need to provide pathways to education careers in addition to traditional undergraduate and graduate degrees. That means stackable certificates and a regimen of early-career credentials to create accessible on-ramps. We should also rethink clinical experiences in educator prep so that we develop paid apprenticeships and experiential learning opportunities that introduce our students to some of the systemic challenges schools face while offering them a progressive, logical pathway to the profession. We need to provide our students, in degree programs and in nondegree professional and leadership programs, field experiences that provide collaborative problem-solving opportunities.

At Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, we are moving forward with schools and school districts, nonprofits, business partners, government organizations and others to reimagine a new education workforce that can serve pre-K–12 students and provide differentiated expertise to the learning process.

We don’t have a lot of the answers at this point. But the questions are inescapable for colleges of education. What does 21st-century teaching look like? How can we attract people to the education profession? How do we prepare creative, respected professionals who can work in teams and deliver better learning outcomes and experiences to communities?

Read the introduction to this series, Reimagining the college of education for the 21st century, and the third installment, Community Design Labs.