Illinois Proposes Fixes For Teacher Shortage

Student desks
Bill Healy / WBEZ
Student desks
Bill Healy / WBEZ

Illinois Proposes Fixes For Teacher Shortage

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Illinois has come out with new recommendations for addressing a teacher shortage in the state.

More than 1,400 teaching positions went vacant last school year, half of them in bilingual or special education. Forty percent of all vacancies were in Chicago Public Schools, but rural downstate districts also struggled to find teachers, according to a new report by the Illinois State Board of Education.

“We’re talking about a statewide teacher workforce crisis with a lot of different elements — from pipeline to retention to diversity to recruitment,” said Jackie Matthews, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.

Matthews said the complex problem requires multiple solutions.

Among the recommendations is eliminating a basic skills test that’s been criticized for weeding out minority teacher candidates. The state would explore other ways for teachers to show competency, such as portfolios or classwork.

The report also recommends elevating the status of teaching — possibly through an ad campaign. “Singapore — a country known for its high-quality education system — uses various media platforms to “sell” teaching as an attractive career,” the report says. “Similarly, charter schools across the United States often employ effective marketing strategies to recruit highly effective, diverse teachers.”

The report also recommends giving kids as young as high school a taste of what it’s like to teach. The number of Illinois college students studying to be educators dropped by 53 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Matthews says funding schools adequately also should be prioritized so districts can implement mentoring and teacher leadership programs that attract strong candidates.

The Joyce Foundation, which has pushed for policies it says will promote more effective teaching, including controversial policies involving teacher evaluation, helped fund the state’s report and had input on the recommendations, Matthews said. WBEZ also has received funding from the Joyce Foundation.

Since the state’s education agency began studying the teacher shortage a year ago, Illinois lawmakers also have taken stabs at fixing the problem.

This summer, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law making it easier for out-of-state teachers to become licensed in the state.

But he vetoed another bill that would have set minimum teacher salaries at $32,076 annually this school year and raised that to $40,000 by 2022.

In his veto message, the Republican governor said “minimum pay legislation is neither the most efficient nor the most effective way to compensate our teachers.” He said it limits local control and constitutes an unfunded mandate.

The state board of education will discuss its recommendations and next steps this week and is seeking public input.

Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @lindalutton.