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Fred Kowal: RETA

A teacher shortage isn’t looming in New York.

It’s here. 

Enrollments in New York’s public and private teacher education programs fell by nearly 40 percent from 2008 through 2012. The state is also facing serious shortages of teachers in technology, and early childhood and special education.

And things are going to get worse. As a third of the state’s teaching force approaches retirement, there aren’t nearly enough young teachers to take their place.

A teacher shortage also means even fewer teachers of color, a long-standing problem in New York. A diverse teaching force is essential. A 2014 Center for American Progress study showed that students of color accounted for nearly half of the school-age population. Conversely, just 18 percent of teachers were teachers of color.

Research shows that students of color are more successful when they are taught by teachers of color. Students often view schools as more welcoming places when they share racial or ethnic backgrounds with their teachers. There’s a commonality between teachers and students, and this reinforces the value of a student’s own identity.

We must act now to attract young teachers to fill these roles, especially in under-resourced urban school districts.

That’s why my union, United University Professions, is advocating for the creation of a new program, Recruiting and Educating Teachers for All, or RETA. This initiative would open the profession to a diverse group of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students seeking to become teachers.

RETA is modeled after the state’s successful Educational Opportunity Program. As with EOP, Qualifying students would receive financial assistance, intensive mentoring and support services, and academic and career counseling. To qualify, students would have to be state residents and meet strict income guidelines. 

Most importantly, RETA would address the lack of diversity in the teaching profession by placing RETA grads in underserved schools where they are most needed.

I am very passionate about this proposal. Why? Because it makes sense. And everyone wins.

Prospective teachers who lack the financial means to take the first step toward becoming a teacher would now be within reach of that opportunity. They win.

School districts struggling with a teacher shortage—caused by the state’s flawed teacher certification process, Common Core, unfair teacher evaluation methods and attacks on teacher unions—would have a pipeline of young, motivated teachers, ready to join New York’s workforce. They win.

Most importantly, students and parents win. More diversity in teaching creates a more conducive learning environment. The likelihood of student success increases, opening the doors of opportunity and professional achievement.

RETA is a can’t-miss investment in New York’s future. We’re hopeful that legislators and the governor will join with us and push to make this proposal a reality. Thousands of future teachers are waiting for a chance to shine. Let’s provide them with that chance. 

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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