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Legislative proposals seek to fix problem of teacher shortages

by Katelyn Tye ~ January 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
According to the U.S. Department of Education, a teacher shortage of some kind is happening in each of the 11 Midwestern states. These shortages can take different forms — an inadequate supply of teachers by subject area or grade level, or in a certain geographic area — but they all can adversely impact student learning.
“It’s when a local school does not have highly effective individuals prepared to meet the needs of children,” Nadene Davidson, chair elect of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said during a December webinar hosted by the Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee.
“It is classrooms that are staffed with substitute teachers that do not have the skills, both from a specific discipline perspective or the pedagogical background, to support the learning of each child.”
Teacher shortages, as reported and defined by the U.S. Department of Education, can be statewide or confined to a specific school district. And the magnitude of the problem varies from state to state. Illinois, for example, has two understaffed positions statewide: bilingual education teachers and learning behavior specialists. The city of Chicago’s public schools are in need of elementary-level teachers.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Minnesota has the most extensive shortage in the Midwest, needing teachers in 27 subjects, including mathematics, reading and middle school science.
States are experimenting with several new policies and programs to expand and retain their pool of qualified K-12 instructors, Davidson said during the webinar. Iowa, for instance, is strengthening its mentorship and professional development programs. As a result of legislation passed two years ago, teachers in about one-third of Iowa’s school districts now have the chance to take on leadership roles, provide guidance to less- experienced teachers, and gain higher-paying positions.
Another option is to offer alternate pathways to the education profession. Last year, North Dakota began allowing school districts to hire “community experts” — individuals who are not licensed educators, but have professional expertise in a subject area. These community experts cannot be hired to teach core subjects at the elementary level.
South Dakota and Indiana, meanwhile, have recently formed special commissions to address the issue. South Dakota’s task force recommends:
• providing full reciprocity for teachers who are certified to teach in another state,
• appropriating $1 million a year for the expansion of current teacher mentorship programs, and
• increasing state funding for education by at least $75 million a year in order to raise average teacher salaries from $40,000 to $48,000.
According to the task force’s final report, South Dakota’s average teacher salary in 2013-14 was $40,023, the lowest figure in the nation. While not the sole cause of teacher shortages, the task force says, compensation is a major factor in the state’s low teacher-retention rates. In 2014-15, the turnover rate for teachers in South Dakota’s K-12 public schools was 12 percent — up from 9 percent the year before.
In Indiana, the number of teacher licenses issued has dropped annually by more than 30 percent. Its commission recommends new mentoring programs for beginner teachers as well as more career pathways and professional development for all instructors. It also is proposing compensation reform: regular pay raises, for example, and more local control over teacher pay plans.

 

Brief written by Katelyn Tye, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Education Committee.