Comment: Appreticeships can help meet state’s teacher needs

Established and new programs are preparing paraeducators for degrees and careers as teachers.

By Chris Nesmith, Sue Kane and Gene Sharratt / For The Herald

When considering the workforce of Washington state’s K-12 public schools system, there are two significant and timely calls to action.

First, there is an extreme and unprecedented educator labor shortage. Even prior to the onset of the pandemic, schools across the state were struggling to meet staffing challenges. Second, the educators in Washington schools rarely reflect the diversity of the student bodies they serve, and educators of color are significantly underrepresented in our schools.

The Professional Educator Standards Board, 2020-21 School Report Card, notes teachers of color made up 13 percent of the teacher workforce compared to 49 percent of students of color statewide.

To be racially representative of the student body in Washington, the number of black educators in our schools must triple, and the number of Hispanic educators in state schools must increase five-fold. To ensure that our schools are well prepared to meet the needs of all youth, it is imperative to simultaneously work to increase both the magnitude and the diversity of Washington’s educator workforce.

Career Connect Washington Networks, aimed at better connecting youth with family-wage jobs across the state, have been recruited to draw new partners to the table, and expand programs with the potential to scale to those communities farthest from opportunity. These partners are leaning heavily into the development, and expansion, of career-focused credentialing and “earn-while-you-learn” development pathways that may just be the key to changing our educator workforce outcomes.

In addition to traditional teaching degree paths, career-based credentialing pathways like teacher apprenticeship, or on-site development programs, allow teacher candidates to remain employed in schools across the state with greater stability, less financial burden and the same opportunity to earn a teaching certificate.

Through strategic partnerships, these pathways widen the onramps to teaching credentials through entry-level paraeducator positions, and give local schools a proven strategy to recruit, train and retain a highly skilled teachers who more accurately reflect the diversity of the student body.

Programs like Eastern Washington University’s, Transition to Teaching launched in partnership with schools across the state, allows currently employed paraeducators to concurrently earn wages and a teacher credential, on-site, with much needed specialized endorsements in English language and special education support.

The Paraeducator Apprenticeship in public education similarly offers a credentialing option for new and existing staff members to enhance their skills and knowledge while working. In addition, employed paraeducators in school districts can use the Labor and Industries Registered Apprenticeship to access a fifty-percent higher-education tuition reduction.

Local 1948, has been operating the Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship for the last 30 years, in conjunction with community and technical colleges, including: Lower Columbia College, Skagit Valley College and Green River Community College. Currently, there are 60 paraeducator teacher-apprentices enrolled and that number is growing to include new school district training partners.

The Para Educator III Registered Apprenticeship launched just this fall in the Woodland School District, in partnership with Lower Columbia College and PSE 1948. The training program aligns to both the bachelors of applied science in teaching and the current collective bargaining agreement for the district, and offers paraeducators paid work and a K-8 teaching certificate, while benefiting from the fifty percent tuition reduction.

These new and expanding career-development pathways will enhance our Washington educator pipeline. When combined with the traditional education degree options, they offer more equitable opportunities for future educators of all backgrounds to find fulfilling, successful careers in Washington schools. This will ultimately mean stronger, more impactful education for Washingtonian students.

Chris Nesmith is superintendent of the Elma School District. Sue Kane is director or STEM Initiatives for the North Central Educational Services District. Gene Sharratt is with the The Center for Educational Effectiveness.

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