UW Madison School of Education launches multimillion dollar program to address teacher shortage

U.S. Department of Education finds that student enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined by one-third since 2010

MADISON, Wis. — School districts across the nation have been struggling to find enough qualified teachers, including here in Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin– Madison School of Education is launching an $18 million program called the Teacher Pledge to help address the teacher shortage. The program offers its students financial support including in-state tuition, fees and testing certification costs in exchange for the students teaching for three or four years at a pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school in Wisconsin. Teacher Pledge will also provide funds to students with greater financial needs to help cover additional costs such as books or living expenses.

“It’s always been challenging to be a teacher, but it’s even more challenging now,” said UW Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “As we know now there are literally thousands of teachers across Wisconsin who have been assigned to teach students who they haven’t been prepared to teach because the shortage is so severe.”

Kara Grajkowski is a senior at UW Madison and will be one of the first students to reap the benefits of the program starting this Fall.

“I just think it’s fantastic that they’re trying to keep teachers here. I think this is a great state to teach in,” Grajkowski said. “If we are able to get ourselves on track before we even start, I think it will help immensely with teacher retention rates.”

Grajkowski said finances are the main reason many teachers leave the industry after just a couple of years. She said with the implementation of the Teacher’s Pledge program, students in the teacher education program “can take a breath. I can focus on my studies. I can focus on my kids. I just think it’s great and if I had this last year, that would have been just life changing.”

Hess said that Teacher Pledge was designed based on research that showed that people who get past their two-year teaching mark are much more likely to stay in the long haul.

She said the goal is to put more than 1,500 students in the program over the next five years.
The Teacher Pledge is one part of the School of Education’s new Impact 2030 initiative. The initiative was made possible through $40 million in donor support.

Hess said that while young teachers are leaving the profession at high rates after only a year or two on the job, the Teacher Pledge incentivizes teachers to stay on the job for at least three or four years.

“Teaching is a very difficult job, especially early on,” says Hess. “We feel if teachers stick with it, they will start to see the value they bring and enjoy the important work they are doing. We are hopeful this will create a positive ripple effect that will help schools and communities across Wisconsin for years to come.”

UW-Madison plans to study the Teacher Pledge program and will share key findings to help aid efforts around Wisconsin and across the nation in building a more diverse and effective teacher workforce.