School Choice Wisconsin, Concordia University partner to address teacher shortage

A growing number of K-12 institutions offering alternative pathways for people who want to teach

High school teacher Natalie O'Brien, center, hands out papers
In this March 8, 2017 photo, high school teacher Natalie O’Brien, center, hands out papers during a civics class called “We the People,” at North Smithfield High School in North Smithfield, R.I. Steven Senne/AP Photo

As schools across Wisconsin face ongoing teacher shortages, School Choice Wisconsin and Concordia University are offering people with degrees an opportunity to join the profession.

The Concordia Teaching and Learning Academy, or CTLA, is an 18-month online program for Wisconsin residents with a Bachelor’s degree who want to teach in the state’s private choice schools. Enrollees are partnered with one of Wisconsin’s 373 participating schools and mentored during their education.

“They will have a mentor who will allow for them to emulate a student-teacher experience, but it’s going to be more immersive,” said School Choice Wisconsin President Nicholas Kelly. “That mentor will also be part of our CTLA program, so they’ll receive guidance from Concordia as well.”

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Kelly said a survey conducted in summer 2022 by School Choice Wisconsin found there were 355 open K-12 teacher positions at the 133 Choice schools that responded. Similar research found Milwaukee Public Schools was down 230 teachers and the Madison Metropolitan School District had 140 teacher vacancies during that time frame, Kelly said.

Enrollment for the CTLA program begins in June. Kelly anticipates about 15 people in the first class, but he says it could grow to 50 in future classes. The cost is about $9,000 per person.

Target enrollees include professionals like actuaries, accountants and engineers looking for a career change or retirees.

Statewide partnerships aim to fill teacher vacancies

The partnership between School Choice Wisconsin and Concordia University is the latest in Wisconsin between K-12 educators and universities to try to address the state’s teacher shortage.

The Wisconsin Department of Instruction and other agencies including CESA 6, an Oshkosh-based cooperative agency that provides educational services to 42 public school districts in eight counties, also provides opportunities that allow people with bachelor’s degrees to get a teaching license.

Those licensing programs typically take about three years.

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay recently partnered with the Green Bay Area Public School District to train 15 paraprofessionals working in the district who want to become teachers. The program is paid for with a grant from the state Department of Workforce Development.

Tim Kaufman, chair of the UW-Green Bay Department of Education, told Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” that K-12 schools and higher education will need to continue to work together to combat the teacher shortage.

“In education, it’s often just a reaction for more teachers,” Kaufman said. “But the focus should also be teacher retention. I think the answer to that is what Green Bay is doing, which is grow your own.”

Michael Hansen, a senior fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., said removing barriers for how people come into teaching is good, as long as those people are supported by the school they end up teaching at.

Hansen said there’s not a large difference in overall quality in teachers based on how they enter the classroom.

“What we do see is a pretty significant difference in the staying power in alternative certification versus those who come in the traditional way,” Hansen said. “Longevity is about half of those traditionally trained.”

Often those people leave sooner because they’ve been paid more in previous careers, newer teachers have to start in more difficult work environments and they are on their second careers already, he added.