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Education secretary challenges New England states to get creative in addressing teacher shortage

He is asking education leaders to consider using ARPA funds as scholarships, and to encourage more students to complete associate’s degrees in high school and teaching degrees in two years.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during an Aug. 8 roundtable discussion on reproductive rights, with Vice President Kamala Harris and college presidents, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Monday that states should offer more pathways for young people to become educators as a way to address the country’s teacher shortage, but he stressed that he doesn’t think it’s time to loosen certification requirements.

In a brief interview, Cardona said he wants state K-12 education commissioners to work more closely with higher education commissioners and college presidents to encourage students to become teachers, and potentially use federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to offer scholarships as an incentive.

As an example, he said he’d like to see more students complete their associate’s degrees in high school and receive scholarships to complete their teaching degrees in two years at public colleges. He also said he’d like to improve teacher preparation internship programs.


“It’s a leadership challenge that I want leaders across the country to take on,” Cardona said after delivering a keynote address at the Reimagining Education & New England’s Workforce (RENEW) Summit in Newport.

With schools set to reopen after summer vacation in the coming weeks, most states — including Rhode Island — are reporting that they are facing a significant teacher shortage, although there is no federal database that tracks exactly how many jobs need to be filled. A spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education said it’s unclear how many openings districts have, but he acknowledged the office is hearing complaints from many districts.

All six of New England’s state K-12 education chiefs signed a resolution Monday supporting a regional collaboration to accelerate student learning and build college and career pathways, with a focus on engaging government leaders, employers and colleges to create strategies and provide resources.

Cardona, who was Connecticut’s education commissioner before joining President Biden’s administration in 2021, called on states to match the “level of urgency” the administration has when it comes to “evolving the education system to provide more opportunities for students.”


“For the last two years, we fought COVID,” Cardona told the conference attendees. “For the next two years, let’s fight complacency.”

That evolution doesn’t include watering down federal accountability requirements, Cardona said, because standardized test scores and other metrics — like graduation rates — help districts understand disparities in achievement in all school districts.

“It would be foolish to walk away from the system that tells us more about those disparities,” Cardona said.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.