Ahead of the Class

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 Ahead of the Class

Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics predict that by 2010 public schools will need at least 2 million new teachers, as the scarcity of new teacher recruits is coupled with the aging of the current teaching force and the growing number of schoolchildren. Already, signs of the shortage are apparent. Demand is high in specific fields (such as mathematics, science, bilingual education, and special education) and in certain geographic areas.

Poor, high-minority urban schools, in particular, currently suffer critical shortages of teachers as a result of high turnover and the reluctance of teachers to take jobs in such schools. Aggravating the complexity of this problem, students of color are expected to constitute a majority of all K-12 students in the United States by 2035. Yet almost 90 percent of the current teaching force is white, a proportion not expected to diminish significantly in the near future.

Duplicating the Success of the Pathways Model Program

Officials at local or district levels have responded with intensified teacher recruitment. Some have developed programs that pursue nontraditional recruits—paraprofessionals, retired military personnel, and career-switchers—in addition to more traditional sources of new hires. Few, however, have evaluated program practices or documented models to guide new teacher recruitment at other sites. One notable exception is the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund’s Pathways to Teaching Careers Program.

The Pathways Approach to Solving the Teacher Shortage

In response to the teacher shortage in urban and rural schools, since 1989 the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund has sponsored the largest, most intense, and novel approach to recruit and prepare a new group of teachers for these settings. Operating at 42 sites across the country by 1999, the Pathways program seeks to recruit from three nontraditional pools: paraprofessionals, uncertified teachers, and returned Peace Corps volunteers (RCPVs).

While important differences exist among the 42 programs, all share four basic features:

  • A partnership between a teacher education program that prepares participants and one or more high-need school districts that employ them;
  • A process that combines traditional and nontraditional criteria to select participants;
  • A rigorous and innovative teacher education curriculum that is tailored to the needs of nontraditional participants and builds on their strengths; and
  • Varied types of support for Pathways candidates while they pursue college degrees as well as teaching certificates.

In more than a decade of development, the top priority of Pathways has remained enlarging and diversifying the pool of well-prepared teachers for public schools in difficult-to-staff, often low-income areas, both urban and rural. Pathways has also aimed to build effective strategies for recruiting, preparing, and certifying teachers from nontraditional backgrounds. The program is based on the conviction that nontraditional candidates already have a wealth of experience that, with appropriate support, college degrees, and teaching certificates, will permit them to become full-time teaching professionals with bright futures in elementary and secondary public education.

About This Handbook

Four years into a six-year evaluation of the Pathways program, researchers at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., and Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey, have documented the program’s considerable success in achieving its major goals. (Preliminary results of the evaluation were published in 1997 as a progress report.1) Building on lessons learned in the evaluation of the model program, this Pathways handbook aims to help new programs make the best possible start in duplicating the success of Pathways. The handbook will be of special interest to people who are already involved in crafting local solutions to the teacher shortage, such as school hiring officers, district superintendents, state education department personnel, and faculty and deans from programs of teacher education at institutions of higher education. A final report, which will detail the research findings that inform the design lessons presented in this handbook, will be published in 2001.

A guide to the design of new programs, this handbook takes a start-to-finish approach. We begin with a review of requirements for building the essential, ongoing partnerships between teacher education institutions and school districts that are a hallmark of Pathways. How to recruit and select promising candidates from nontraditional backgrounds occupies the next section. Then we describe innovative elements in the teacher education curriculum. Section IV discusses the types of support that program participants from nontraditional backgrounds need during their preparation as teachers. The final section, on costs and budgeting, offers guidance for establishing and supporting a well-administered Pathways operation.

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1. DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. 1997. Recruiting, Preparing, and Retaining Teachers for America’s Schools: Progress Report—Pathways to Teaching Careers. New York, NY: Author.