Introduction

Illinois is on the verge of catastrophe as the looming teacher shortage is compounded by the lack of diversity among educators and the rising rate of teachers leaving the profession early:

  • This document is intended to address the issues of Teacher Diversity, Teacher Credentialing, and Teacher Retention.
  • These issues will be addressed with a three-part plan that would work best together while structuring each part to be effective individually.
  • By the end of this document, the reader will have a much better understanding of the problems facing the Illinois education system. Additionally, the reader will have evidence-based actionable items that could be implemented to mitigate the effects of Illinois’ volatile educational state.

The State of Education in Illinois

Illinois has long been struggling with a population split by different needs.  There is a high concentration of residents living in diverse urban settings with diverse needs, there is a significant number of residents spread out in suburban conditions with moderate diversity, and the remainder of the population is dispersed widely across the state with little diversity compared to the rest of the state.  Each segment of the population has educational values and needs that may not align with those of the other sections of the population.  This creates conditions that make it difficult to create a single solution that will best serve the needs of the entire state’s population.

In the urban communities of Illinois, there is often an abundance of educational facilities that are plagued by a lack of funding to maintain those facilities.  This lack of funding has led to the consolidation and prioritization of some school buildings over others.  This policy of selective maintenance is compounded by the shifting population of students who may no longer be living in the neighborhoods of chosen facilities.  The environment that this consolidation has created is made unstable by the students’ reluctance or inability to travel to the buildings they are assigned to attend out of fear for their safety.  This diminishes the perception of the school as a safe place for learning and builds negative associations within the minds of those who attend schools under these conditions.

In the suburban communities of Illinois, there are fewer strains directly placed on the students’ ability to attend school.  However, minority students who attend suburban schools are far less likely to have a non-white teacher.  This lack of representation will negatively impact these students’ perceptions of their potential place in the profession of teaching.  Additionally, non-white students in these schools tend to have higher rates of referrals for discipline and harsher punishments for offenses when compared with white students in the same school. (Barrett, McEachin, Mills, & Valant, 2017)

Illinois’ rural communities are facing similar problems hiring and retaining teachers as other parts of the state, but for different reasons.  Due to dispersed populations and the low enrollment numbers in communities, it is difficult to entice teachers to work in these districts.  This is exacerbated by the stringent licensure requirements for high school teachers. (Herald-Whig Editorial Board, 2018)  Many school districts in rural communities do not have full time positions available for high school teachers in a single subject area.  They could provide full time employment to entice teachers to work at the school if the teacher was endorsed in more than one subject.  Due to the stringent requirements of high school endorsements, it is rare for a teacher to be endorsed in more than one subject area.  School administrators in rural communities have noticed a significant decrease in the number of qualified candidates for open positions and have been forced to eliminate classes when positions cannot be filled. (Feldmann, 2017)  If the endorsement requirements were similar to those of middle school, it would reduce the burden on teachers to be endorsed in more than one subject.

Teacher Diversity

Teacher diversity in Illinois is impacting the education of students statewide.  Illinois teachers are disproportionately represented by white female teachers. In Illinois 83.3% of the teachers in 2017 were self-identified as White and 76.7% as Female.  This trend does not meet the diverse needs of the student population.  Students in Illinois are far more varied in their ethnicity than their teachers.  In Illinois Students who self-identify as White make up only 48.5% of the student population; the remaining 51.5% consists mostly of Hispanic and Black students for a combined 42.7% of the non-white student population. (Illinois State Board of Education, 2018)  This imbalance in representation can lead to a continuing decline in the number of minorities that will choose to enter the teaching profession.  Imbalanced representation will further affect the relationship that non-white students have with their white teachers.  (Barnum, 2017)

A potential solution to the problems of presented by the lack of diversity in teaching would be to encourage non-white students to enter the teaching field through a partnership with local community colleges to provide 100 and 200 level pedagogical courses to high school students through a practical care classroom in the high school.  This could be achieved by providing a location for a Head Start program in schools that are not having their facilities fully utilized.  By creating this educational alliance, you are providing an opportunity for students in that school to become invested in pursuing a career in education by helping them earn college credit before leaving high school.  Additionally, you are providing a place for students with children to fulfill their needs for a nearby and safe care center to allow them to attend school without having to worry about the instability of childcare while also providing a community service to advance educational gains by providing a Head Start environment to children in need.  All this can be done through partnerships among groups with aligned goals and symbiotic needs.  The funding could be provided through grants and existing programs without having to further burden the tax payers.  The students who benefit from the college education would be pre-invested in attending post-secondary education and would likely attend further classes after graduating.  This has a high potential reward for the community, students in need, and the education profession with a low cost or risk to the community.

Teacher DiversityStudent Diversity

Teacher Credentialing

In the 2016-2017 school year, over 2000 positions went unfilled statewide and the Illinois Board of Education projects the state will need 700 new teachers a year to replace those leaving the profession.  (Illinois State Board of Education, 2018)  Illinois is on the cusp of a tsunami of teachers leaving the profession in the near future.  The Illinois average teacher salary is $61,342. (Turner, 2018)  This may seem like teachers in Illinois are seeing windfall wages, but that number should be considered with Illinois Senate Bill 2892 which is intended to mandate a minimum starting salary for teachers of $40,000 by the year 2022.  In the event this bill is signed into law it will raise the salary it will immediately raise the salary of teachers at over 500 schools in the state to $32,000 at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.  (Lauterbach, 2018)  A new teacher working at Rockford School District, the second largest school district outside of Chicago, would need to work for 12 years before their salary steps stopped $3,000 short of the state average.  If that same teacher started teaching with a master’s degree they would need to work 13 years before their salary steps stopped $1,000 short of the state average. (Rockford Education Association & The Rockford Board of Education, 2015)

The disconnect between the state’s average salary for educators compared to the additional data about future legislative hopes and the real income of educators provides a glimpse into the future of education in Illinois.  The number of late career teachers employed would need to grossly outnumber the early career teachers to create such an imbalance.  This conclusion should worry all citizens as it portends a coming shortage of educators that could completely undermine Illinois’ educational institutional effectiveness.  There are two solutions to help with the coming shortage and both involve re-evaluating credentialing of educators in Illinois.

The first and far more simple solution would be to reduce the endorsement requirements of high school educators to be consistent with those of middle school educators.  This would create continuity of licensure and simplify the process for perspective educators.  It would reduce the challenges faced by rural school districts to fill positions that are not full time employment by making it easier for teachers to be certified in more than one subject area.  It would make the process of becoming a licensed teacher easier for those considering entering the profession by reducing the confusing bureaucracy associated with each distinct level of teaching.  Finally, by changing the licensing requirements to be constant there would be more potential candidates for jobs in hard to fill positions.  This could reduce the number of positions that have become harder to fill and have often gone unfilled in many school districts. (Illinois State Board of Education, 2018)  This could be further assisted by making it easier for people wishing to switch careers into teaching to become licensed.

The second solution would be expanding on the great work of programs like Grow Your Own Illinois. (Grow Your Own Illinois , 2018) Programs like this encourage members of the community to become educators.  Many parents are employed in schools as paraprofessionals and could use the time they spend working with students to improve their own education.  A program that would employ members of the community to work with students in classrooms while enrolling them in an educational degree program partnered with Illinois universities would allow for the growth of the potential pool of educators while providing much needed paraprofessional support in classrooms.  The funding for a program like this would be a worthwhile investment for the state and could be used to increase teacher diversity by using community members and to steer the students toward high needs areas of education through their work in special education programs as part of their work-study assignment.  The mentorship of these students combined with the real experience of being in a classroom should reduce the likelihood of them exiting the profession early and reward their meaningful service to the school with opportunity to improve their own prospects by becoming a teacher. (Nevel, 2018)

Teacher Retention

The final concern facing Illinois is the number of teachers leaving the profession early.  Teacher retention has become a growing problem and looks to be growing worse every year.  As stated above, there is a large number of returning teachers each year, but that number is based on a demographic of teachers that are nearing the end of their service.  Many teachers suffer from a failing sense of self-efficacy that is impacting their decision to stay in the profession. (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2010)  The effects of the mounting pressures of teachers from parents and the ongoing reduction in teacher pension security is contributing negatively to career longevity of early career teachers. (Feldmann, 2017)  This is being further compounded by the effect of vicarious experience as new teachers are confronted by the attitudes of the large number of late career teachers and the negative emotions often espoused by those educators. (Protheroe, 2008)

A solution to the problems that are leading to a burnout rate of 3-5 years for most teachers and the fact that many teachers are fleeing Illinois would be to create a tax incentive for teachers by providing tax credits on state income tax.  A program could be created similar to the Domestic Production Activities Tax Deduction that farmers received and other similar tax breaks that allow the reclamation of income from tax. (Krapf, Raab, & Zwilling, 2017)  The state of Illinois could provide a similar benefit program for Educators that live and work in Illinois.  This would financially incentivize teachers to remain in the career, while alleviating the financial uncertainty that comes from an ever-changing pension system.  This would provide a temporary form of relief and hopefully help to encourage professionals to stay in education rather than leave early.  This is only a stopgap measure as the fundamental reasons for high attrition among early career teachers needs to be examined in great detail to prevent long-term collapse of the education system.

 

Conclusion

The state of education in Illinois is declining quickly and it is imperative that changes be made to recruit a more diverse cadre of teachers, change credentialing to allow needed flexibility in staffing and training teachers, and provide immediate financial incentives to retain educators as the root causes of teacher burnout are addressed.  If the state of Illinois does not address these issues it will fail the students that it serves by failing to recruit, assign, and retain the educators that will train the future generations of the state.  A child’s education is not something that can be done a second time; every moment that the education system fails the student is a moment that cannot be returned or replaced.  There is no greater predictor of future success than the current strength of the schools teaching the young.  If the state of Illinois values the future it will show it by placing value on significantly increasing the diversity of educators serving students across the state.  If Illinois hopes to stem the growing tide of unfilled positions it must allow the credentialed professionals to move easier among teaching positions while also forging pathways for community members to become licensed teachers.  After that investment, Illinois cannot afford to lose those educators by not providing them a financial reason to remain with the profession as it examines the foundational causes of the lack of teacher self-efficacy.

References

Barnum, M. (2017, April 10). The power of one: New research shows black students see big benefits from a single black teacher. Retrieved from LA School Report: http://laschoolreport.com/the-power-of-one-new-research-shows-black-students-see-big-benefits-from-a-single-black-teacher/

Barrett, N., McEachin, A., Mills, J. N., & Valant, J. (2017). What Are The Sources Of School Discipline Disparities By Student Race And Family Income? New Orleans: Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

Feldmann, M. (2017). Illinois Educator Shortage Report: Survey Conducted By IARSS. Edwardsville, IL: Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

Grow Your Own Illinois . (2018, June 1). Retrieved from Grow Your Own Illinois: http://www.growyourownteachers.org/

Herald-Whig Editorial Board. (2018, April 17). Teacher shortage threatens harm to Illinois education system. Retrieved from Herald-Whig: http://www.whig.com/20180417/teacher-shortage-threatens-harm-to-illinois-education-system#

Illinois State Board of Education. (2018). Illinois Educator Supply and Demand Report. Springfield, IL: Illinois State Board of Education.

Illinois State Board of Education. (2018). Illinois Report Card 2016 – 2017. Retrieved from https://www.illinoisreportcard.com/state.aspx?source=profile&Stateid=IL

Krapf, B., Raab, D., & Zwilling, B. (2017, July 21). Illinois Income Tax Changes from P.A. 100-22. Farmdoc Daily. Retrieved from http://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2017/07/illinois-income-tax-changes.html

Lauterbach, C. (2018, May 30). Illinois lawmakers set to pass $40k teacher wage requirement . Retrieved from Illinois News Network: https://www.ilnews.org/news/schools/illinois-lawmakers-set-to-pass-k-teacher-wage-requirement/article_fde45e8c-637b-11e8-a58c-431e37616045.html

Nevel, J. (2018, January 14). How Can Illinois Solve It’s Teacher Shortage? Retrieved from The State Journal Register: http://www.sj-r.com/news/20180114/how-can-illinois-solve-its-teacher-shortage

Protheroe, N. (2008). Teacher Efficacy: What it is and why does it matter? Alexandria: National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Rockford Education Association & The Rockford Board of Education. (2015, July 2015). Professional Agreement Between Rockford Education Association, Inc. and The Rockford Board of Education, Rockford Public Schools District 205. Retrieved from Rockford Public School District 205: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwjyu9ThxLvbAhUpxqYKHVDaCPcQFjAAegQIARAo&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww3.rps205.com%2FDistrict%2FDocuments%2FCollectiveBargainingAgreements%2FREA%2520Contract%25202015.pdf&usg=AOvVaw19_jj4aF9

Skaalvik, E. M., & Skaalvik, S. (2010). Teacher self-efficacy and teacher burnout: A study of relations. Teaching and Teacher Education, 1059-1069.

Turner, C. (2018, March 16). The Fight Over Teacher Salaries: A Look At The Numbers. National Public Radio. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/03/16/592221378/the-fight-over-teacher-salaries-a-look-at-the-numbers

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