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Addressing Wisconsin’s Educator Workforce Shortages

Wisconsin public schools, like schools across the country, are facing historic teacher shortages. Significantly fewer students are pursuing education as a career, and Wisconsin districts are reporting increasingly shallow applicant pools for a variety of positions. Certain disciplines, as well as certain areas of the state, are at critical shortage levels. Addressing these shortages, while attracting, developing, and retaining top talent, is one of the most critical public policy issues facing our state.

Talent Development Initiative and Supply and Demand Study

Wisconsin is pursuing multiple strategies to address the educator workforce shortage, including the Talent Development Initiative, a large-scale collaboration to improve the recruitment, retention, and development of Wisconsin’s educators.  

Started in 2015 and headed by the state’s Professional Standards Council (PSC), the Talent Development Initiative is engaging a wide array of education stakeholders from around the state, including school district and school board leadership, school-level educators and organizations representing educators, education preparation program representatives, legislators, and other interested citizens. Ultimately, the goal of this initiative is to deliver a statewide strategic plan focused on recruiting, retaining, and developing Wisconsin’s world-class education workforce.

As part of the Talent Development Initiative, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) conducted a series of regional meetings and sent a statewide survey of district administrators, and will be sending surveys to educator preparation programs, and teachers later this summer, to gain a deeper knowledge of the workforce issues facing Wisconsin schools. In addition, the DPI has begun partnering with UW-Madison to study the supply and demand issues facing schools, districts, and regions around the state. Both efforts will serve to inform the statewide strategic plan and inform future policy discussions.

State Superintendent’s Working Group on School Staffing Issues

While the longer-term Talent Development Initiative is progressing, State Superintendent Tony Evers convened the State Superintendent’s Working Group on School Staffing Issues in March 2016.  The ten-member Working Group, comprised of school district administrators, principals, and current and former Teachers of the Year from across the state, was charged with identifying the most pressing problems driving school staffing issues. 
The group was tasked with recommending actionable solutions that the DPI could implement as soon as possible to quickly alleviate workforce shortages and otherwise positively address school staffing issues while maintaining effective and high-quality instruction for all students.   After a series of meetings throughout the Spring, the Working Group submitted its final report in June 2016.  

The Working Group identified several key staffing problems facing schools across the state, including chronic staffing shortages across many disciplines; fewer applications for available positions; fewer standout candidates in applicant pools; substantial veteran staff retirements and less age diversity among staff; and difficulty retaining experienced educators in high-demand fields. In addition, members recognized that rural schools are “shorthanded everywhere,” and rural staff members must increasingly assume additional roles in order to function.

To address these problems, the Working Group recommended several key strategies that DPI, through its oversight of teacher licensure and educator preparation programs, could implement quickly, including through the creation of new administrative rules. They include:

  • Keep retirement-eligible educators in the classroom as long as possible, and make it easier and more attractive for retired educators to return to the classroom;
  • Create new opportunities and pathways for educators to take on new roles;
  • Empower districts with more options and flexibility in hiring, particularly when a shortage exists;
  • Reduce the time, cost, and effort it takes to obtain and renew a license;
  • Foster more connections between K-12 and higher education to proactively address staffing issues;
  • Support local “grow your own” programs to attract and cultivate youth into teaching; and
  • Promote the pathways to licensure that currently exist more effectively.

Next Steps

DPI is currently reviewing the Working Group’s recommended strategies and options. In several areas, the Working Group recommended that DPI engage a broader group of stakeholders to further develop its ideas.

While the Talent Development Initiative progresses, DPI plans to advance an emergency rule package based on some of the Working Group’s recommendations to provide schools and educators with additional flexibility for the 2016-17 school year.  Emergency rule changes under consideration include:

  • Expanding an existing option to add on a license by passing a content exam;
  • Extending license renewal options for educators near retirement or recently retired;
  • Expanding flexibility around the licensing of substitute teachers;
  • Allowing educator effectiveness provisions to count towards professional development requirements for license renewal;
  • Streamlining emergency licensing and permitting processes;
  • Recognizing certain out-of-state license testing requirements; and
  • Creating flexibility for the department to examine competency-based measures of content knowledge as another alternative to certain examinations required for licensure.

DPI will likewise consider permanent rule changes and is reviewing internal policies and procedures as well, with the goal of implementing immediate assistance around school staffing.

While the Working Group’s report serves as a guide to help immediately understand and address some of the most pressing staffing issues facing schools and districts, much more work is needed by partners across the state, including parents, educators, administrators, school board members, and lawmakers, to address the deeper, systemic problems identified through the Talent Development Initiative and raised by the Working Group. Working together, Wisconsin can ensure we maintain the high quality of our educators and address critical staffing issues to ensure that all Wisconsin children have access to the classrooms they deserve.

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