COMMENTARY: Exploring Options
By Jim Rosborg

What still needs to be done to solve the teacher shortage problem? The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the state legislature made a great effort this past spring session, especially with removing the basic skills requirement. Sad to say, these efforts are not enough. There are other issues that need to be addressed before we see an increase in the numbers of people wishing to enter the classroom. Let’s explore a few.
  • Lower the retirement age from 67 to 62 for Tier 2 and Tier 3 teachers. Sixty-seven is too high, especially because adjoining states, including Missouri, allow full retirement as early as 53 years old. This, perceived poor pay, retirement incentives, working conditions, and teacher blaming are all issues contributing to fewer teacher candidates in Illinois and more students attending college out-of-state. Illinois is second only to New Jersey in the number of high school seniors who attend out-of-state colleges and universities. 
  • Offer “Grow Your Own” incentives. These programs provide opportunities for current high school graduates in the local community to come back and teach in their home districts. This “Grow Your Own” plan should also include a pipeline for paraprofessionals to become certified teachers. Accomplishing this is a matter of lessening restrictions that currently force paraprofessionals to quit their jobs to student teach.
  • Start “Future Teachers of America” clubs in high schools. These programs were popular in the 1960s and worked to raise the interest in public education.
  • Offer tuition scholarships to teacher education candidates. These state scholarships provided individuals such as myself the ability to attend college. The requirement was that I had to make a five-year commitment to teach in the state upon licensure. 
  • Provide hiring bonuses to high teacher shortage positions: math, science, industrial technology, special education, and English as a second language.
  • Lessen restrictions on middle school, industrial technology, and elementary licensure. To be specific, middle school endorsement should return back to the same requirement as prior to January 31, 2018. If not, I feel we will see a shortage in five years. Kindergarten should be placed back with the elementary licensure, as this non-researched change has caused placement problems in many districts. Alternative certificates should be offered in the area of industrial technology.
  • Base educational decisions on research, not power political groups or educational money foundations.
  • Illinois education is too over-regulated. Form a study group to study this. Regulate for success not failure.Establish achievable benchmarks. For example, ISBE recently set the meets/exceeds benchmark on the SAT state test 50 points higher than the number established by the College Board as the benchmark for the college ready student. The College Board based its decision of 50 years of research. Another example — the recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidelines sets up many schools in Illinois to be perceived as failures; many of these schools are excellent schools with fine instruction.
  • Illinois needs to change its attitude towards the education profession to celebrate the success of professional educators. For example, in 1983, the Illinois Master Teacher Program set up the award winners to be mentors for other teachers. But funding never took place to implement this outstanding idea for teacher development and improvement. Likewise, teacher mentor and induction programs are needed, but have not been previously funded for successful implementation. The ideas have been put forth, but never implemented in a strategic manner that is fully funded for success.
Issues focused on the legislature with ISBE support:
  • Encourage universities to limit future increases in tuition to assist minority and overall student enrollment. Open the door for the financially challenged student. Universities across the state have been raising tuition at approximately 7 percent a year. The higher the tuition, the fewer candidates we have.
  • Set up university study commissions to evaluate general education classes offered at the freshman and sophomore level. Too many students drop out because of the lack of interest in the general education classes.
  • Continue to look at ways to raise teacher’s salaries and provide state funding for the additional costs placed on school districts. The recent raising of minimum teacher salaries is a good step for the teacher shortage challenge, but only if the state provides sufficient funds to school districts that are impacted by this change. 
  • Re-institute capital development funds to enhance school facilities. The bill has been passed. Now implement the process without delay. Not only does capital development provide more jobs in Illinois, it helps provide the educational setting to encourage students get in to the profession.
Editor’s note: As of this writing, SB1952, removing the requirement of the passage of a test of basic skills for teacher licensure, had passed both houses of the state legislature and was pending the governor’s signature. ´Ç╝
Jim Rosborg, Ph.D., is Director of the Masters in Education program  at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois. He is also an author and a former public school superintendent in Illinois.