A new report has labeled the state’s teacher shortage a crisis—one that’s particularly bad for Central Illinois districts struggling to lure candidates away from Chicago-area schools.
In a recent survey, 30 percent of Central Illinois school districts reported teacher shortages as a “serious problem.” And 89 percent of those Central Illinois districts reported that they have received “significantly fewer" qualified candidates than just five years ago.
“We’re having a crisis in getting people in the profession and getting them out in the field to serve as teachers in our districts, especially outside the northeast parts of the state,” said Mark Jontry, the regional superintendent of schools responsible for McLean, Livingston, Logan, and DeWitt counties.
The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools’ (IARSS) survey findings were presented to the Illinois State Board of Education last week. Jontry, who is president of the IARSS, worked on the report with the IARSS Educator Shortage Committee.
There’s no single cause of the shortage, which is more pronounced in central and southern parts of the state. Illinois’ colleges and universities are thought to be producing enough educators to fill positions, but many want to teach in the Chicagoland area, Jontry said. Some teachers are leaving the profession after only one or two years in the field; others are put off by overly complicated license-renewal requirements.
The teacher shortage is already affecting classrooms. Nearly a quarter of districts (22 percent) said they’ve had to cancel classes or programs due to shortages of qualified applicants, according to the survey.
Why are Central and Southern Illinois particularly hard-hit by the teacher shortage? The report suggests that teacher shortages are more pronounced in counties with lower teacher salaries, greater low-income students, and smaller percentages of adults with college degrees.
Across the country, the teaching profession has been ostracized in public discourse, Jontry said. Teachers have been criticized over their pensions, for example, and by parents questioning their effectiveness in the classroom. Fair or not, that public perception is having an impact on recruitment, Jontry said.
“That whole ball of wax contributes to the fact that fewer of our high school graduates are interested in going into the profession,” Jontry said.
One in five teacher positions remain unfilled in Illinois. Here are the hardest-to-fill positions, according to the survey:
McLean County’s teacher shortage is not as bad as other counties in Central Illinois, Jontry said. Foreign language positions are the hardest to fill here, Jontry said. There is also a looming shortage of school psychologists and speech-language pathologists in McLean County, he said.
“We’re getting more and more kids with greater and greater needs who are qualifying under special education,” Jontry said. “Special education is the one I’m most concerned with going forward.”
Beyond just identifying the problem, the IARSS report also makes policy recommendations for how to address it. Among them:
- Decreasing the specialization requirements would broaden teachers’ capacity to teach various subjects and/or grades.
- If the position of student teaching were compensated, Illinois could attract professionals who want a career change but cannot afford to “not work.”
- Illinois has a segment of professionals who could be brought back into the system but who have lapsed licenses for failure to renew registrations or submit professional development hours for renewal. Allowing individuals to reinstate under temporary conditions without financial penalty would immediately bring back some retired educators and individuals who left the profession temporarily.
Jontry said Central Illinois districts with hard-to-fill positions might also benefit if policymakers made it easier for them to recruit and nurture current high schoolers into the profession. This “grow your own” model would remove barriers and introduce high schoolers to the teaching profession earlier on, possibly even give them a chance to earn college credit, hoping they’ll come back to the district after college.
“That’s one thing that we have to look at. That’s going to take a lot of work,” Jontry said.
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