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The Potential Role Limited Certificated Teachers Can Play in Addressing Teacher Shortages

By Sun Young Yoon and Jason Greenberg Motamedi | February 6, 2020


Sun Young Yoon
Sun Young Yoon is a senior advisor at Education Northwest. She also co-leads the Montana Education Research Alliance, a partnership between REL Northwest and state, local, and tribal education stakeholders in Montana.

Many states and districts face teacher shortages and struggle to find and hire qualified teachers.

Additionally, many states, including Washington, calculate teacher shortages by using the number of teachers in their schools who do not have full certification or are teaching outside of their endorsement area(s) as a proxy for unfilled positions.

Put another way, the number of limited certificated teachers is a direct indicator of teacher shortages.

In 2017, there were nearly 2,000 limited certificated teachers in Washington—underscoring a finding by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction that about 97 percent of school district human resource directors statewide said they were struggling to fill positions or facing a teacher shortage crisis in 2016/17.

According to a recent REL Northwest study (which analyzed the results of an online survey administered by the Professional Educator Standards Board), 68 percent of the limited certificated teachers in Washington who answered the survey want to become fully certified.

This finding may be a helpful jumping-off point for conversations among state policymakers as they seek to address a growing teacher shortage.

It also underscores the possible viability of grow-your-own teacher programs (a strategy Washington state has been examining), which typically focus on encouraging limited certificated teachers or other educators, such as paraprofessionals, in a school district to pursue a full teaching certification.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi
Jason Greenberg Motamedi is a senior advisor at Education Northwest. In addition to leading REL Northwest's work with the Washington State Vibrant Teaching Force Alliance, he manages a variety of research and evaluation projects—designing evaluation strategies and instruments and collecting data through focus groups, interviews, and classroom observations.

Additional Findings

The REL Northwest study also found that substantial percentages of limited certificated teachers want to teach a subject area in which there is a staffing shortage, such as special education (25 percent) and math (19 percent).

Further, the study found that, compared with White respondents, a larger proportion of respondents of color wanted to become fully certified.

This is critical, given the racial/ethnic disparity between teachers and students in Washington (in 2016/17, 45 percent of Washington public K–12 students were students of color, but only 11 percent of the state's teacher workforce consisted of people of color), which research suggests may have a negative impact on diverse students' success in school.

And although about 70 percent of survey respondents who expressed interest in becoming fully certified identified substantial barriers to doing so, limited certificated teachers of color expressed an even greater need for supports, including student teaching experience, testing fee waivers, and medical benefits.

Providing these types of supports can help limited certificated teachers—especially limited certificated teachers of color—enroll and succeed in teacher certification programs.

In addition, it can help state and local leaders recruit and retain a teaching force that reflects the diversity of Washington's students and is responsive to their learning needs.

Looking Ahead

Based on other research from the REL Northwest study, paraeducators are likely in a similar situation as limited certificated teachers and likely face similar barriers to full certification.

Future research may want to study this population further and find even more ways to expand grow-your-own teacher programs in Washington state.