SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has published a comprehensive suite of solutions for the statewide teacher workforce crisis, backed by state and national research and data. The "Teach Illinois: Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms" report addresses the state's record number of unfilled positions. The data show the problem strikes underfunded districts: 90 percent of last year's teacher vacancies were in districts funded below adequacy.
Fully investing in the Evidence-Based Funding formula will support school districts in the greatest need to implement proven models for improving teacher recruitment and retention.
State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith, Ph.D., will facilitate a discussion on the report with State Board members at the ISBE board meeting at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 100 N. First St. in Springfield.
"Every child in Illinois deserves well prepared and effective teachers in their classrooms," said Smith. "The State Board charged agency staff one year ago with thoroughly investigating the teacher shortage in Illinois. We have a statewide crisis, and now we have a suite of research-backed and targeted solutions. Getting serious about solving the teacher shortage crisis means increasing investments in Illinois' underfunded school districts, so they can implement proven teacher leadership, mentorship, and pipeline models."
The Teach Illinois report connects and prioritizes recommendations based on national and state research studies and engagement with focus groups involving more than 400 participants across the state.
The Teach Illinois recommendations fall into six strategies:
• Provide adequate funding for all school districts. Ninety percent of the 2017 teaching vacancies were in districts funded below adequacy. The districts in the greatest need currently have the fewest resources to implement effective teacher leadership, mentorship, and pipeline programs. The report recommends fully funding the Evidence-Based Funding formula.
• Create leadership and mentorship structures for current teachers. Nationally, new teachers who do not receive mentoring and other supports leave at more than twice the rate of those who do. The biggest supply of teachers for Illinois' classrooms is returning educators, whose return rate typically hovers at about 90 percent. However, 54 percent of new teachers in Illinois leave their initial school of employment within the first two years. By the fifth year of teaching, 67 percent leave their initial school of employment, and 25-30 percent leave the teaching profession altogether. Chicago Public Schools' Opportunity Culture schools and Tennessee's Teacher Leader Network provide effective models for teacher leadership that not only increase retention but also expand the reach of master teachers and improve student achievement.
• Support innovation in teacher preparation. The number of candidates enrolling in and completing teacher preparation programs in Illinois decreased by 53 percent between 2010 and 2016. Teach Illinois focus group participants resoundingly agreed that a high-quality field experience is the single best way for teacher candidates to develop effective content, classroom management, and data-driven decision-making practices. The report recommends supporting multiple avenues of entry into the teaching profession and encourages partnerships between school districts and preparation programs.
• Develop teacher career pipelines aligned to meet demand. Bilingual and special education account for almost half of all unfilled positions. Additionally, the percentage of students of color in Illinois increased from 46 percent to 52 percent over the last ten years, while the percentage of teachers of color remained static at around 15 percent. The report recommends developing pipelines to provide a seamless pathway from introductory dual-credit courses in high school, into postsecondary preparation, through to licensure -- especially in shortage areas such as bilingual and special education. District 214's Educator Prep Career Pathways, Kansas City Public Schools' Educators Rising program, and the Portland Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program provide models for teacher pathways.
• Eliminate the Test of Academic Proficiency and explore alternative approaches to assessing basic skills. Currently, most teacher candidates opt to demonstrate the basic skills necessary for licensure through ACT or SAT. Portfolio or competency-based assessments could provide more effective options, while maintaining rigorous standards and high expectations.
• Partner with stakeholders on a statewide communications and community outreach campaign. Illinois can learn from the public awareness campaigns undertaken by other states and reach target audiences through grass-roots and communications efforts.
The report is available online at www.isbe.net/teachillinois and is open for public comment until Oct. 2. Commenters can submit feedback to TeachIllinois@isbe.net.
The Joyce Foundation generously invested in the Teach Illinois project and served as a thought partner. The foundation also supported Education First Consulting and Revolution Impact, which provided technical and content expertise.