Educator Shortage in 2021:
Response and Recommendations
By Jim Rosborg
A committed group of educators has worked for the past six years to research the changes in the state rules and regulations and their impact on the number of candidates going into education in the state of Illinois.
The group includes the author, along with the Illinois Council of Professors in Education Administration (ICPEA), the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), Centralia High School Superintendent Chuck Lane, and University of Illinois Clinical Professor Patrick Rice.
For the first three years, we surveyed and received data from a cross-section of universities in the state of Illinois. The past three years, we have worked with Jason Helfer, Emily Fox, and the IT department at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to present data from ISBE Annual Reports along with teacher shortage efforts made by ISBE as reported in their September 2018 report, “Teach Illinois: Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms.” Teach Illinois provided ISBE’s policy solutions to alleviate teacher shortages in Illinois. I encourage you to read this and the 2020 ISBE Annual Report which gives data on educators entering the field including full-time teacher equivalents, teacher and administrator licenses, endorsements, and license tests.
The number-one positive effort by ISBE continues to be the decision to eliminate the Test of Academic Proficiency, known as the TAP Test, in June 2019. Passage rates were between 17-24% for a seven-year period. This move removed a potential barrier and provided more opportunities for college students to enter the field of education. The move by ISBE was a huge step forward and should help the shortage in two to three years (individuals still have to achieve their degree before they can teach). Let us also hope that the pandemic is under control during this same period. We are losing many educators in all fields due to the stress caused by the virus.
Data indicate a decrease in content-area tests in the license areas of edTPA, special education, science, foreign language, history, art, vocational education, school support personnel, bi-lingual education, math and computer science, language proficiency, and administration. As stated at a February 2021 ISBE meeting, early childhood teacher numbers are also a concern. There is a decrease of around 7,500 educator licenses issued by evaluation, entitlement, and type. The data is showing the overall numbers are still declining and more action needs to be taken to lessen the shortage.
According to ISBE’s unfilled position data, statewide, there are almost 4,500 positions that were not filled for the 2021-22 academic year by licensed teachers in the subjects being taught. To further back up this data, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendent of Schools (IARSS) has been steadfast in surveying school districts the past three years. The 2021 report includes these findings:
- 65% of the responders felt that the teacher shortage is getting worse.
- 23 administrative positions went unfilled.
- 257 classes were canceled because of the lack of teachers.
- 74% of the responders reported a major problem with substitutes.
Even though the educator shortage problem continues to handcuff school districts throughout the state of Illinois, there have been some other recent success stories over the last year. The Golden Apple Accelerators Program was initiated in FY21. It was developed to assist school districts by recruiting, preparing, and mentoring college seniors and non-educators with bachelor’s degrees looking for a career change. This program will choose individuals who will become lead teachers in special education and PE in year two of the program.
Another positive result came from some of the policy changes contained in HB 2170, the Education Omnibus Bill passed in the lame-duck session this past January. The high points of the bill that have the potential to help the teacher shortage problem include the removal of state-required GPA entrance requirements that limited alternative program participation, as well as improved educator preparation course articulation and alignment between 2- and 4-year colleges. Now PA 101-0654, HB 2170 was signed by the governor in March 2021.
The Scaling Education Pathways Initiative (SEPI) was started this school year through a collaboration between the Illinois P20 Council, The Joyce Foundation, and the Education Systems Center through Northern Illinois University. This program helps create an educator pathway program to help solve the teacher shortage problem. In this education pathway, while still in high school, students take education courses that can lead to becoming a teacher. The assistance offered through this program includes assisting students through the College and Career Pathway Endorsement process as well. Centralia and Vandalia high schools are two southern Illinois school districts that were recipients of a grant to participate in SEPI.
Another initiative that was reported by Roosevelt University is the effort to transition full-time substitute teachers and paraprofessionals to full-time licensed teachers. The university is also setting up full-time one-year resident student-teacher programs to assist in this process.
Although there is still much work to do, these are some recent positive examples of the work being done to alleviate the teacher shortage problem across our state.
In my opinion, the teacher shortage, principal shortage, and superintendent shortage crisis is still real and needs to be continually discussed and researched by State Superintendent Carmen Ayala, the board members of ISBE, and the Illinois legislature. I am encouraged by the work of Emily Fox of the ISBE staff as presented at the February 18, 2021 ISBE Board Meeting. What still needs to be done? ISBE has made a great start, but other issues that need to be addressed before we see the numbers increase of those individuals wishing to enter the classroom.
While I am not so naïve to say all ideas below should be implemented, let’s look at a few of the possibilities to explore.
Illinois must lower the retirement age from 67 to at least 62 for Tier 2 and Tier 3 teachers. Teachers in the field before 2011 can retire at the age of 55 (Tier 1). Teachers entering the field after 2011 (Tier 2) and in the future (Tier 3) must work until they are 67. This is too old, especially compared to neighboring states; Missouri allows full retirement as early as 53. Perceived poor pay, limited retirement incentives, working conditions, and teacher blaming continue to be issues. Now that the basic skills test has been eliminated, I feel the retirement rule is now the top impactor on young people leaving Illinois high schools for out-of-state universities in the field of education. Illinois is second only to New Jersey in the number of high school seniors leaving their home states.
“Grow Your Own” programs offer incentives and opportunities for current high school graduates in the local community to come back and teach in their home district. A “Grow Your Own” plan should also include a pipeline for paraprofessionals to become certified teachers. This is a matter of lessening restrictions that currently force paraprofessionals to quit their jobs to student teach. This program would also help alleviate the serious problem we have filling teacher positions in rural communities and areas of economic distress. This initiative would also make the teaching field more diverse.
Start “Future Teachers of America” clubs in high schools. These programs were popular in the 1960s and worked to raise the interest in education as a career. Consider local and state FTA scholarships.
Offer tuition scholarships to teacher education candidates. In the past, these state scholarships provided individuals such as myself the ability to attend college. Though I had to make a five-year commitment to teach in the state, this scholarship changed my life. I know the Illinois Black Caucus is pushing for minority scholarships. I hope they are successful.
Provide hiring bonuses to high teacher shortage positions i.e. math, science, early childhood, industrial technology (CTE), special education, and English as a second language. Further, rural communities and schools experiencing high poverty should be placed in this consideration.
Lessen restrictions on middle school, industrial technology (CTE), and elementary licensure. To be specific, middle school endorsement should return to the same requirement prior to January 31, 2018. If not, I anticipate we will see a shortage in 45 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 industrial technology (Career and Technical Education) and other areas where there are great shortages without taking away the course rigor needed to be a skilled teacher.
Explore programs to assist in teacher retention. We will not be able to tackle the teacher shortage problem without addressing the current turnover trends in teacher career paths.
We are overregulated. Form a task force to study this with the goal to regulate for success, not failure. Establish achievable benchmarks. For example, ISBE set the meets/exceeds benchmark on the SAT state test 50 points higher than the benchmark established by the College Board of SAT, which set the benchmark on the college-ready student. The College Board based their decision on 50 years of research. Another example: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidelines set up many schools in Illinois to be perceived as failures when many of these schools are excellent schools with fine instruction.
In addition, the legislature, with ISBE support, should consider the following recommendations. Encourage universities to limit future increases in tuition to assist minority, low income, and overall student enrollment. Open the door for the financially challenged student. Universities across the state have been raising tuition at approximately 7% a year. The higher the tuition, the fewer candidates we have. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing returns. Some universities have realized this and cut tuition and looked for alternatives for textbooks to lower student expenses. Most have not. This, along with the virus threat, could potentially be devastating to universities in the future.
Set up university study commissions to evaluate general education classes offered at the freshman and sophomore levels. Too many students drop out because of the lack of interest in general education classes that are not imperative to the development of a good teacher. Lessening the general education requirements could assist in extending resident student teacher programs, so the candidate could have more experience in the classroom prior to having their own classroom.
Continue to look at ways to raise teacher salaries and providing state funding for the additional costs placed on school districts. Currently, the new state law regarding future teacher salaries states that the minimum salary for all teachers will be at least $40,000 by the first day of school, 2023. This is good, as long as the state financially supports districts to make this change. Hopefully, this will help keep teachers in the field.
Re-institute capital development funds. The Capital Development Program provided more jobs in Illinois and improved the building and grounds of the selected districts. I realize that this idea might have to be delayed because of the current negative impact on the economy from the coronavirus pandemic, but it must remain a goal for the future.
Establish commissions at the ISBE level to look at changes to be made in policy that limits individuals in becoming licensed as teachers and administrators.
Continue the support of mentoring and induction programs.
Provide school districts and universities consistent guidelines and continual support to fight the impact of the pandemic.
While this is not a list of all possibilities, I do hope this discussion stimulates efforts at all levels to solve this major administrative and teacher shortage in our state. Now is the time to review past practices that worked and implement them to assist Illinois and truly help the students of the future. The present health crisis has to be the current focus, but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that the teacher shortage cannot be totally put on the back burner.
Jim Rosborg, Ed.D., is a retired superintendent of Belleville CUSD 118 and semi-retired Director of the Masters in Education program at McKendree University. He is a frequent contributor to the Journal on the educator shortage topic and a past president of the Illinois Council of Professors in Education Administration.