A New State Solution for Teacher Shortages: Apprenticeships

Two teachers talking in a classroom

Concerns about the shortage of teachers, in early education through high school, are growing and with good reason. For example, nearly one in four teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–21 school year. However, teacher shortages are not consistent across the country.

Shortages are more prevalent for some subjects (e.g., math and science, special education, career and technical education) and for some schools (e.g., schools serving urban, rural, or low-income communities or high percentages of students of color). At the same time, elementary and other “surplus-area” teachers, those who are not essential in order to meet program or subject requirements for a specific school, remain unemployed in some districts. This is anecdotally due to teacher vacancies and teacher shortages needed for very specific subjects in specific districts. These variances mean that teacher shortages are not just an educational issue but also an equity issue, as shortages are shown to be more predominant in schools serving urban, rural, or low-income communities.

As local school districts across the country grapple with teacher shortages and equity issues, states are looking for ways to build sustainable teacher pipelines. Over the last year, states have begun exploring and implementing the use of Registered Apprenticeship Programs as a strategy to address teacher shortages. In August 2022, the secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education jointly released a letter proposing apprenticeship as a solution to address nationwide teacher shortages and encouraging states to establish high-quality Registered Apprenticeship Programs for teachers. As the gold standard “earn and learn” model, apprenticeships provide individuals with an income from day one of the program, which brings in a larger pool of talent to occupations with critical worker shortages.

State Models for Teacher Apprenticeships

As of this publication, at least 10 states currently have established Registered Apprenticeship Programs for teachers or have efforts in development. Examples of these efforts, which range from statewide initiatives to activities in specific school districts, include the following:

  • Tennessee was the first state to start a K–12 teacher apprenticeship through the state’s Grow Your Own partnerships model. The model is designed to foster partnerships between Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and school districts and provide innovative, no-cost pathways to the teaching profession by increasing EPP enrollment and growing the supply of qualified teachers. The first program was launched at Austin Peay State University, establishing a permanent Grow Your Own model in partnership with Clarksville-Montgomery School System.
  • Iowa launched the Teacher & Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship Program, which includes two apprenticeship options. In one apprenticeship, high school students and adults train as classroom aides and earn a paraeducator certificate as well as credit towards an associate’s degree in education. The other apprenticeship allows current paraeducators to advance in their career pathway and earn a bachelor’s degree and a full teaching license.  
  • The West Virginia Pathway to Teaching Initiative is piloting a teacher apprenticeship in 27 counties in the state. The program allows high school students to complete college-level course work and graduate from high school with a year of college completed toward their bachelor’s degree in education.
  • Texas is working on a statewide teacher apprenticeship initiative involving key workforce and education partners, including the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas Education Agency, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The first teacher apprenticeship program in the state was launched by Dallas College. In this model, students earn a $30,000 wage in year-long residencies. Students serve as teacher residents three days per week in classrooms and then either tutor or serve as a substitute one day per week.

In addition, Wyoming and Indiana both recently announced plans to move forward to implement educator-focused Registered Apprenticeship Programs. Colorado and North Carolina also have apprenticeship programs for teachers currently underway, while other states have programs in various stages of development.

State Discussion of Challenges and Considerations

While there are successful program models emerging across the nation, some states are encountering challenges to starting teacher apprenticeships and are working with partners to find solutions. In a recent peer discussion with 14 state apprenticeship offices, convened by AIR as part of the State Apprenticeship Expansion Project, states shared the following considerations:

  • Registered Apprenticeship Programs for teachers must ensure that they meet all state licensing requirements. Education and apprenticeship partners need to work closely with state licensing agencies to ensure licensing requirements for teachers are met through the apprenticeship.
  • Organizations vital to launching successful teacher apprenticeships are not always knowledgeable about the benefits of the apprenticeship model. It is important to generate buy-in from school districts, state education agencies, state legislatures, educator preparation programs, and others about the value of apprenticeship as a model for training teachers.
  • Input and buy-in from teachers are also important. If teacher voices are not included in the effort to explore and develop a teacher apprenticeship, there is a risk that the program will not be sustainable. Teachers can play an important role in development, delivery, and messaging about the quality of apprenticeships and have unique perspective on potential successes or shortcomings of programs.
  • Funding to support teacher apprenticeships is another key area of consideration. Identifying all potential funding sources (federal, state, and other) to leverage support for teacher apprenticeship programs and provide financial support for teacher apprentices is important, particularly in states that do not provide paid student teaching experiences.
  • Determining credit for prior learning for individuals starting teacher apprenticeships who have related education and/or work experience can be challenging and largely individualized. A consistent approach to providing proper credit for prior related education and/or work experience is important for apprentice recruitment and retention.  

The apprenticeship model has the potential to establish a pipeline of educators through a structured, high-quality training approach that is accessible to a broader pool of potential candidates. The different existing models, several described above, provide examples of different strategies for launching teacher Registered Apprenticeship Programs. New examples and better understanding of what works will come as more states try these and other approaches. AIR looks forward to continuing to support state education partners and state apprenticeship offices as they explore the potential of apprenticeship to address teacher shortages.