Will Illinois’ new education law fix the state’s teacher shortage?

Chris Roegge, the executive director of the Council on Teacher Education at the University of Illinois, discusses the impact of new state legislation on Illinois teachers. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

MAY 4, 2018 1:00 PM

SHARITA FORREST

Editor’s note: Chris Roegge is the executive director of the Council on Teacher Education, a unit within the College of Education at the University of Illinois. Roegge recently spoke with News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest about a new education law in Illinois that makes it easier for out-of-state applicants to become substitute teachers, as well as other education-related bills being considered by Illinois lawmakers.

Senate Bill 863, recently signed by Gov. Rauner, makes it easier for teachers with out-of-state credentials to get Illinois teaching licenses. Is this change removing cumbersome overregulation on Illinois’ part or will it compromise the quality of incoming teacher candidates?

I don’t think it necessarily compromises the quality of preparation, but it also waives two specific assessments, basic skills and edTPA, that are required of in-state teacher candidates. (Editor’s note: edTPA is a performance-based assessment of beginning teachers’ skills in activities such as lesson planning, delivering instruction and evaluating student learning).

Institutions close to the state borders are wary that this could drive potential teacher education students out of state.

SB 863 is heralded by supporters as a stopgap solution to a teaching shortage in Illinois. Is this shortage of teachers a statewide problem or one that’s more nuanced and related to the variances in funding among school districts?

The teacher shortage is somewhat nuanced. Teachers are not in short supply everywhere in Illinois or in every subject area or grade level. Shortages are concentrated in large urban and small rural districts. Math, science, special education and English as a second language/bilingual are areas of consistent need. More affluent districts might have hundreds of applicants for open positions, while other districts have none.

The Illinois State Board of Education recently enacted emergency rules that allowed districts to hire teachers who weren’t fully qualified to be substitutes, with the provision that districts would provide mentoring and professional development. These substitutes are allowed a set period of time to achieve full licensure in that subject area and be hired permanently.

That makes a lot of sense in terms of addressing the short-term situation while making provisions for a longer-term solution, but districts need resources to provide the mentoring and professional development. Well-resourced districts are able to do that and poorer districts have more difficulty.

Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposed amendment to the state’s school code that would establish a minimum salary of $40,000 for full-time teachers.  Is that salary threshold enough to attract more people to the profession despite the many other challenges teaches face, such as underresourced schools and standardized testing mandates?

I think the salary increase helps, in terms of perception as well as practice, especially given that the current minimum is $9,000.

I read a quote recently that sums up the situation pretty well, which said that it was generally acknowledged in the past that teachers and prospective teachers were willing to trade off low pay for job security, status – because it was a fairly high-status job – and pensions. Now, we’ve reached a situation where the salaries are still comparatively low, the status has decreased substantially and the benefits are under assault, too, so the two positives that outweighed the one negative are not so positive anymore.

But there are other factors also. I was at a statewide meeting of college of education leaders a few weeks ago and a colleague from another public institution in the state had just come from fact-finding sessions with school personnel in their area. They’d had several conversations about the teacher shortage and why more people aren’t entering the profession.

The audience came up with five p’s – pay, pressure, pensions, parents and policies – that discourage people from choosing teaching. Those issues speak to the educators’ interpretations of the context right now surrounding teaching as a profession.

What educational barriers discourage prospective students from entering teacher preparation programs?

The one that garners the most attention currently is the basic skills test requirement. Students can satisfy that requirement by either taking the actual test or by having a composite score of at least 22 on the ACT and the English/writing portion of the ACT, or by achieving a certain score on the SAT. Statewide, this is a significant hurdle for many prospective teacher education students.

This is a fraught issue because it speaks to perceptions of academic rigor, or lack thereof. But, there is little to no correlation between “basic skills proficiency” and success in teaching. So the question is how teacher education programs should ensure the academic quality of their students without unduly constricting the applicant pool.

Right now there is considerable discussion around this issue, and I believe that a reasonable alternative to the current requirement will be adopted sooner rather than later.

Student debt is a big issue in general, but especially so for graduates entering comparatively low-paying jobs. Institutions and state government need to work together on strategies to address the costs of entering teaching, including general college costs and those specifically associated with teacher preparation.

Source: Illinois NEWS BUREAU

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Will Illinois’ new education law fix the state’s teacher shortage?
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Will Illinois’ new education law fix the state’s teacher shortage?
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Chris Roegge is the executive director of the Council on Teacher Education, a unit within the College of Education at the University of Illinois.