Have we really been talking about the need to improve teacher recruitment and retention for decades?
Educators meeting in Indianapolis and video-conferencing in from throughout the nation for the 2013 National Agriculture Education Summit said yes, and that it’s time to do something about it.
State agriculture education directors, teachers, principals, and stakeholder groups recently spent two days sketching out action plans to address agriculture education teacher shortages in their states, and they were told to finish by the end of the month. That’s right. The time is now for action.
They have joined the national Teach Ag campaign, which began two years ago as an initiative of the National Council for Agricultural Education. The campaign is led by the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE), which found agriculture teacher shortages in 28 states during its annual survey.
Depending on the state, schools have difficulty finding qualified and effective agriculture teachers for high school programs that are vital to the agriculture industry, including:
- Animal and Plant Science;
- Crop Science;
- Agriculture Mechanics;
- Biotechnology; and other areas.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack welcomed the opportunity to work with the Teach Ag campaign, the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and all partners to recruit and retain the next generation of great teachers.
Our nation struggles with teacher shortages across many subjects and with developing teachers for students with special needs. However, the challenge of improving teacher recruitment and retention goes far beyond supply and demand.
As a nation, we must elevate the teaching profession and give teachers the respect they deserve if we are to solve this annual dilemma.
Research shows that the teacher is the single most important factor in a student’s academic success. For this reason, President Obama has requested Congressional approval for an unprecedented $5 billion to support states and districts willing to pursue bold reforms that can help better prepare, support and compensate ALL teachers in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
The Department of Education’s 2013 budget proposes a new 25-percent set-aside in Title II funds – $640 million – for state grants to create and expand high-performing pathways into teaching and school leadership, enhance the profession, and reduce shortages of teachers in science, technology, engineering and math – including agriculture.
If we are going to educate our way to a stronger economy, we must work with teachers, principals, colleges of education, and employers to strengthen teacher preparation. We must find mutually agreeable solutions to the thorny issues of evaluation and compensation.
And we must reengineer our most important profession to make teaching our most sought after profession. Why? Because we need the smartest, most talented people we can find teaching our students.
That’s how we will educate our way to a stronger economy and a more prosperous future.
John White is ED’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach.