The New Educator Value Proposition
Nicola Soares | President, Kelly Education
Education is the bedrock of a thriving society––and it’s now starting to crumble without teachers.
Imagine if the American public education system was a business. Its employees – teachers and administrators – are quitting in alarming numbers, and its talent pipeline is drying up. What would the CEO and board of directors do?
They’d apply a concept taught in every business school in the world and rethink their employee value proposition (EVP) – the rewards a company offers people in exchange for their talent and contributions. They might reimagine compensation, create meaningful retention programs and invest in professional development.
Unfortunately, that’s not how our nation’s education system works. Teachers and administrators are under-valued. They’re exiting the profession in droves, and far too few stand ready to take their place. We’re well past a crisis point, and yet, the vicious cycle of burnout and turnover continues.
According to the Labor Department’s latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) report, another 143,000 education sector workers in the U.S. quit their jobs in December. That’s up by more than 19,000 educators from the same time in 2020 when concerns about educator quits were already exceedingly high.
In tandem, our pipeline of educators ready to fill open positions is weak. Education-sector job openings in America increased by 58,000 in December alone, and the number of education openings recorded during the current academic school year climbed 53% compared to the same period one year ago.
We now face a perfect storm with our education workforce. Far too many teachers and administrators have called it quits, and we need more qualified talent to pick up the pieces near term.
Without qualified teachers and administrators, American students will decline in their academic achievement, and the implications will be felt for decades. How can we address these woes? We can start by revamping our EVP. Here are three actions we can start taking now to recruit and retain more K-12 educators.
Get Serious About Where Salaries Need to Be Compared to Other Industries
Educators have been undervalued for years, and The Great Resignation has opened even more doors to find bigger paychecks elsewhere. In response, school districts across the U.S. have been increasing pay for full-time and substitute teachers, but most of these bumps have been so modest that they’ve failed to keep pace with inflation.
If we intend to keep teachers and principals from voluntarily leaving their jobs, we need sweeping federal and state legislative reforms and school district action to increase funding for teacher salaries. How much do you need? Consider this, teachers with college degrees average between $52,811-$69,763 annually, according to salary.com. By comparison, Walmart truckers now make $86,000 annually, according to Truck Driver Salary. That’s right, even truckers make more than teachers.
Forgive Student Loans for More Educators
In addition to increasing pay to retain and recruit more educators, we must also forgive the student loan debt being carried by far too many of our teachers nationwide. According to data from the National Education Association, over half of educators who have taken out a student loan to fund their own education still have a balance, with an average current debt amount of $58,700.
We already have federal loan forgiveness programs in place for educators working in low-income areas and for those who teach certain subjects. Let’s build upon those programs and expand loan forgiveness to cover education-sector workers more broadly so they can meet the standards of having a living wage (income).
Increase Incentives for Substitute Teachers in the Near Term
As more full-time teachers leave the profession, schools are increasingly relying on long-term substitutes to fill permanent positions. Unfortunately, we face steadily declining fill rates for schools’ substitute requests and a shrinking supply of qualified individuals interested in filling substitute vacancies overall because of the crushing demand.
In the near-term, let’s put available covid-relief funding to work to help more substitute teachers get the training and certifications they need to take on permanent positions. And let’s increase daily pay rates for our corps of substitute teachers nationally. America has undervalued these educators for too long, and policymakers should set a new tone of value and recognition.
As a former educator and the leader of the largest education staffing provider in the country, my heart breaks to see so many educators fleeing a profession they love(d). I’m confident we can chart a new course as we stand ready to build important coalitions. Let’s conduct our EVP analysis and take the federal, state, and local actions necessary to recruit and retain the education workforce needed for a brighter tomorrow.