Pitt launches teacher preparation program amid growing teacher shortage
No one can remember exactly when the University of Pittsburgh last offered an undergraduate degree in education.
But Pitt officials say it’s high time for a change.
They recently announced that the university, which has a strong graduate school, will open a new Bachelor of Education program in fall 2023.
The announcement comes amid a critical shortage of teachers across the country and growing shortages locally.
Most agree that the bachelor’s degree program that prepares graduates for classroom life was last offered in Pitt about 30 years ago. Back then, Pennsylvania colleges and universities, with a plethora of teacher preparation programs, were training more than twice as many new teachers as state schools could absorb. So, there were few complaints when Pitt chose to drop his undergraduate program, keeping only a few small undergraduate programs on regional campuses and his graduate school of education in Oakland.
But over the past decade, there has been a dramatic drop in enrollment in Bachelor of Education programs.
As of 2011, enrollment in such programs and new educational certifications – essentially a state license that says a graduate is qualified to teach – began to decline rapidly. Today, only about a third of students are enrolled in teacher preparation programs in Pennsylvania than 10 years ago. And state records show new certifications have declined by two-thirds over the same period.
Sheila Conway, an associate professor who coordinates special education programs at Pitt, served on the committee that recommended launching an undergraduate education program. She said it was clear Pitt could help fill growing gaps in education, particularly in special education where there are shortages nationwide.
âSo many districts don’t have (qualified special education teachers) and students with disabilities are suffering,â Conway said.
âI have over 100 students enrolled in a minor in education and at the masters level we get 30 to 50 students a year. Most of my graduates have jobs immediately and I have districts that call all the time, âshe said. âThe need is so dire on the ground and we have such great undergraduates. ”
The new Pitt program will offer six specialties, one in special education for pre-K-12 grades as well as math, social science, science, foreign languages ââand English programs for grades 7-12.
While local school administrators say they can still fill most elementary school vacancies without a problem, hiring qualified teachers in special education, math and science can be a challenge. Finding substitute teachers is even more difficult.
Already, a shortage of substitute teachers has led schools across the country to switch from time to time to distance learning. Locally, public schools in Pittsburgh were forced to switch to distance education on November 29, due to a staff shortage and a lack of substitute teachers.
Chris Lilienthal of the Pennsylvania State Education Association said teacher shortages are a growing concern for the organization that represents teachers across Pennsylvania.
âTeachers lose lunch time and prep time to cover in case of absence,â said Lilienthal.
He speculated that these stress-related issues and the pandemic prompted some teachers to retire early.
Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said its members see the impact of the growing teacher shortage every day.
“It’s not imminent, it’s here in spades,” DiRocco said. âAnd we don’t have enough people in our colleges today. Education is more in crisis than most people realize.
He called Pitt’s announcement a welcome development.
A number of factors may have contributed to the exodus of teacher preparation programs in Pennsylvania.
For years, the glut of new teaching graduates has led many to opt for careers outside of education or leave the state to find teaching jobs.
As the cost of a college education skyrocketed and student debt became a national problem, students and families began to wonder where to focus their education. Education apparently started looking less than promising in Pennsylvania in 2011, when state budget cuts prompted schools to lay off about 4,000 teachers across the state. Although that number was eventually reduced, it was an edifying tale.
DiRocco said the current vitriol aimed at schools on masks and vaccination policies has not helped.
âWe need to stop making schools a scapegoat for national politics,â he said.
Conway acknowledged that education has received bad press in recent months, but said the pandemic has also shed light on the important role teachers play in the fabric of American life and how they can be agents of change introducing greater justice and equity.
Pitt officials say they want to emphasize this aspect of the profession as well as the need to make it more inclusive. They said opening a program to students who want to enter the classroom without the added cost of a graduate degree should make it more attractive to first-generation students, minorities and students with disabilities.
Lilienthal said it was an important question.
âPennsylvania follows pretty much every other state in recruiting teachers of color,â he said. âOnly about 6.3% of our educators are teachers of color, while about a third of our students are. ”
Michelle Sobolak, a teacher at Pitt responsible for teacher education and vocational training, said officials were already reaching out to upper secondary students who have expressed an interest in teaching.
Although the undergraduate study program will not officially open until fall 2023, Sobolak said students can start taking the prerequisites immediately so that they are ready to enter the program as juniors. when it opens in fall 2023.