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Teacher shortage threatens harm to Illinois education system

Teacher shortage threatens harm to Illinois education system
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Posted: Apr. 17, 2018 9:35 am

A NEW law that streamlines requirements for out-of-state educators to be licensed in Illinois represents an important step to help address a teacher shortage crisis in the state.

The measure signed earlier this month by Gov. Bruce Rauner allows teachers to become licensed in Illinois if they have completed a comparable state-approved college education program or hold a comparable and valid license with similar grade and subject credentials in another state.

Most important, it eliminates the requirement for teachers from other states to take and pay for additional classes to earn an Illinois license, a significant roadblock in luring new and veteran educators to the state, particularly in border communities.

However, loosening the licensing requirements alone will not solve a problem that has been years in the making.

“It’s a complex issue, and so it’s going to require multiple solutions,” Regional Superintendent Jill Reis told The Herald-Whig. “There will not be one single solution that ‘fixes’ the educator shortage issue.”

Illinois is not alone. The Washington Post reported last year that the teacher shortage has grown more acute nationally as the profession has been hit with low morale over low pay, unfair evaluation methods, assaults on due-process rights, high-stakes testing requirements, insufficient resources and other issues.

The Illinois State Board of Education said the 2017-18 school year began with about 2,000 unfilled teaching positions across the state. Many educators cite stringent licensing requirements as the major reason for today’s shortage.

Moreover, those requirements also have led to few high school students pursuing and completing degrees and education at state colleges and universities in Illinois.

A report by the National Governor’s Association showed enrollment in bachelor’s level teacher programs in Illinois declined from 24,206 to 14,685 between 2000 and 2015, and those completing the programs dropped by an equal percentage.

The most recent survey by the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents found that 78 percent of districts identified a minor or serious problem with teacher shortages, and 89 percent of central Illinois districts are seeing significantly fewer qualified teaching candidates now than in previous years.

The survey also noted that 16 percent of schools canceled programs or classes because of the lack of teachers — mostly in special education, language arts, math and science classes. Rural school districts have been hit particularly hard by the lack of qualified teachers.

Therefore its critical that state educators and lawmakers do their homework to determine ways to reverse this chronic problem.

In addition to streamlining the teacher licensing system, Illinois educators have called for decreasing specialization requirements for teachers and expanding programs for developing new teachers. Several bills are now pending in the General Assembly.

Reis noted that Quincy University already offers a rural educator scholarship program that provides students who commit to teaching in rural school districts money to help pay for their teaching preparation, and Western Illinois University is developing a program of its own.

Furthermore, Quincy Public Schools has partnered with John Wood Community College to develop a program to expose current high school students to teaching careers through coursework and practical experience. If QHS students choose that career path, the hope is they will return to Quincy to teach once they have completed their college education.

Clearly, these steps should help, but much more must be done before this teacher crisis worsens and creates irreversible harm to the state’s education system.

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