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RYAN ESTES: Hello everyone, and welcome to the Field Trip podcast from Frontline Education. I’m Ryan Estes, and my guest today is Kelly Coash Johnson. With several decades of experience in educational association work, today she serves as the Executive Director for the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, or AASPA.
Kelly, welcome to Field Trip.
KELLY COASH-JOHNSON: Thank you so much for having me.
RYAN: You spend a lot of time talking to leaders in school districts all across the country, which I know gives you a unique perspective into the state of hiring in schools. And it’s no secret that this continues to be a challenge that schools are facing these days.
From what you’re seeing, what stands out to you right now as we enter the 2023-24 school year? Are there any common themes or challenges that make you take notice?
KELLY: Yeah, absolutely. It’s been a great summer. We’ve been looking at a lot of different data points, and the US Department of Education in July reported through their channels that we are not back to pre-pandemic levels. And the piece to always remember though is that we had a teacher and an educator shortage before the pandemic. So, while I’m glad that we are tracking that data, we have been in this situation of an educator shortage for quite a while.
They are, however, tracking some positive movement, but ultimately, until some key issues surrounding teacher pay and compensation are addressed, we’re going to struggle to see a lot of movement with that. On average, still, teachers earn 24% less than other college graduates, so that’s always something we’re looking at. In 2021-2022, we still had 16 states that had starting salaries below $40,000.
This year in particular, I think, beyond the fact that we’re looking at the teacher shortage, AASPA is monitoring and paying attention to the fact that we’ve got shortages in all areas of K-12. So, bus driver shortages have gotten a lot of press this fall already. And I think we’re going to see more focus as we move along on facilities and food service areas in the coming weeks.
Another theme that we’re watching and has been really interesting to see is that states have been passing a lot of rules and laws this last probably nine months on certification and licensure changes. For example, states like Virginia, they just put in a new alternative pathway to licensure in June, and it’ll be interesting to watch that particular state with their teacher shortage struggles and their recruitment struggles, and if that did indeed help or not. This particular alternative pathway allows teachers to get into the classroom on a provisional license and then work towards their full license on an online program. And it’s supposed to be costing them around $3,000. There’s a love/hate relationship with this type of solution for many states. We love that we might be reducing barriers for individuals to get into education, but we also worry that changing the pathways too quickly is not traditional and it’s nothing like what educators were required to do in the past.
RYAN: Last September you took part in a webinar with Frontline and EdWeek in which you described the importance of deepening how we look at this issue, and at the time, you highlighted five shifts in thinking and practice that you believe are necessary. For example, you talked about not just creating pathways to careers in education, but also working to reduce the barriers to those careers; not simply increasing teacher pay, but really establishing transparent and equitable total reward systems, and I’m curious: now that it’s a year later, how has your thinking crystallized or evolved over the past year?
KELLY: We spent this summer, and probably about the last five or six months, digging into promising practices for each of these five shifts. And what I think we’ve noticed is that a lot of the action around these is occurring in the area of reducing barriers. These include that alternative certification program that I mentioned, as well as this is also where the teacher apprenticeship programs fit in and the overall changes to certification.
What we did is ask both higher ed, departments of ed, and K-12 to submit returns on each of these areas. And I would say most of them came through in that particular area. But while you’re talking about establishing transparent and equitable total reward systems, that one we did not get a lot of submissions, if you will, for promising practices in that area. So, what that kind of tells me is that may be our biggest challenge moving forward. If we look at these shifts, people are struggling with that: how to do it, when to do it. But we’re even just looking for flexible staffing model examples or incentives. And so those are coming in a little bit here and there, but a lot of the transparent offerings and the employee-centered total reward strategies are pretty out there, if you will, for folks to really wrap their brains around.
RYAN: For those of our listeners who are listening to you speak and saying, “Okay, I’m facing this issue right now, this year, whether I’m going into 23-24 and having trouble filling my vacancies,” or saying, “I need to already begin looking to next year to really lay the groundwork for making sure I’m fully staffed at that point, I just need something that I can do now that’s going to move the needle a little bit.” What would you say to that?
KELLY: Right, right. No, that’s a great question. So, number one, ask, right? Because I think that’s the one thing that is always a, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” You’ve got to ask your current folks now. We are seeing some amazing growth based upon stay interviews and employee interviews overall and asking, “What would it take to get you to be able to stay in this position?” or “What would it take for your colleagues to want to come and work for our district?”
Maybe it’s a flexible staffing model. Maybe it is a matter of, “I can only teach in the mornings because I have an elderly parent that I have to take care of in the afternoons,” or, “I have a childcare situation.” And those are things that I think we might be able to make some headway on. But we have to ask, because we make assumptions but we don’t have the actual conversations to back those up.
I believe that retention is the new recruitment. Before we really look at recruitment strategies, sometimes we need to make sure that our retention strategies are where they’re at. So some of my favorite promising practices from districts are things like novice teacher mentor programs. For example, Putnam County, Florida developed a mentor program that has resulted in a retention rate of 89 to 93% in the past five years. That’s amazing! And if they’ve got that retention rate, that’s going to affect how they recruit, because folks are going to pay attention. They’re like, “Oh, Putnam, they have that really awesome mentor program for their new teachers. I want that.” So, it works in recruitment as well as the retention piece.
I’ve also seen some really good work with the Grow Your Own programs to work for retention as well as recruitment, believe it or not. For example, I think it’s the Michigan Department of Education, is leading a multimedia campaign to improve their retention and their recruitment for new folks by doing a Welcome Back campaign.
When you talk about data, one of the pieces of data that I always encourage my members to try to get their hands on if they can is how many educators exist in the pool right now that have their certifications that are not currently working in a school district? Some states are really good about giving you that information and they’ll be able to tell you, “These are people that have teaching certificates that left education for one reason or another.” And then developing, whether that is a marketing or just an outreach program to say, “Hey, we want to welcome you back to education if you ever want to come back.” I’m a super big optimist, so I know we saw a lot of people during the pandemic and even before that exit the field of education for all of these things that we talk about with the pay and the sense of purpose and belonging. And so being able to readdress those to the folks that left is also a really powerful recruitment tool.
RYAN: When you look five years out, say, what do you think we will be seeing when it comes to hiring in schools? And perhaps a way to stay positive about it is, what makes you hopeful as you look forward?
KELLY: So I, too, am a very positive-thinking person. When I look at our situation, I do not see more gloom and doom. I know it’s hard when the media is throwing stuff at you on a regular basis, but I really do see more positives than I see negatives, and I think we’re going to open our eyes to the value of educators and those who work in school systems more and more.
So, this kind of started with the pandemic. I think a lot of people realized that educating kids is hard, and feeding kids is hard, and keeping kids safe is hard. And we’ve spent a lot of resources in the short term on maybe academic recovery from the pandemic. And now I’m hoping in the next five years, or sooner, that we’ll see a shift towards using some of those resources on our workforce. I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see a huge increase in the number of people that want to go into education yet, in the next five years, but I do think we are going to see some great work with retention of educators and that move back to education from those that left.
It’s hard to be an educator, and I really think that some very important people are figuring that out and hopefully they have the ability to work towards improving that. And when I mean “they,” I mean your state departments of education and your state lawmakers. The two issues that really affect education and human capital leadership in schools are teacher pay and teacher certification, and both of those items are very state-driven items. So, making sure that state lawmakers understand those and also understand where maybe they sit in the grand scheme of things will help move that needle just a little bit every year.
RYAN: Once again, Kelly Coash Johnson is the Executive Director for the American Association of School Personnel Administrators. Kelly, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for speaking with me today.
KELLY: No problem. And, shameless plug, I will give a shameless plug: we are about ready to release our next magazine, which is open to members and non-members. And I had the opportunity to see that firsthand, and there are some amazing articles on recruitment and retention from a variety of different school districts and experts. And so, a plug for AASPA, that magazine’s coming out. So, take a look at it.
Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, the leading provider of school administrative software. That includes Frontline Recruiting & Hiring and Frontline Central, designed to help you quickly recruit, hire, and onboard great talent. For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe to Field Trip anywhere you get your podcasts. For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening and have a great day.