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Paraeducators: Growth, Diversity and a Dearth of Professional Supports

Amid discussions on how to diversify the teaching workforce, policymakers are looking toward paraeducators: teachers’ aides and other staffers who help prepare activities or work with students who need additional support. In a recent working paper published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, researchers led by Biraj Bisht examined the paraeducator profession, focusing on workforce trends and district-level policies.

The researchers analyzed data from multiple national databases to examine the growth of this workforce from 1993 to 2019. They also collected primary data from a sample of 10 school districts to determine differences in development, motivation, and management strategies between paraeducators and teachers within the same district.

They found that paraeducators are the fastest growing sector in the education workforce, and are more racially and ethnically diverse than teachers. However, these educators have lower wages, earning less than half of the average salary of elementary and middle school teachers. The analysis also revealed that paraeducators have less job security, fewer performance incentives such as stipends or bonuses, less professional development and mentoring, and fewer opportunities for evaluation, learning, and advancement within the field.

With these positions recognized as potential pathway into teaching, the research has policy implications not only for strengthening and professionalizing the paraeducator workforce, but also improving and diversifying the teaching corps.

-By Bella DiMarco