SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Picture this: a classroom full of eager students ready to learn, but without a teacher at the front.
That's the reality Illinois schools face if the state doesn't tackle its teacher shortage, education advocates warn.
In Tuesday's State Board of Education meeting, the shortage will be a focus. Former Belleville Superintendent and McKendree adjunct professor Dr. Jim Rosborg will testify. He said the higher standards and lower incentives for Illinois teachers are detrimental.
About half the number of people are going through the process of becoming a teacher as compared to a decade ago, and Rosborg's research found more than 1,400 vacant teaching positions in Illinois schools last year correlated with the certification requirements.
But he said easing up doesn't mean getting worse teachers – in fact, it could be the opposite.
"We have forgotten the component that teaching is an art. You don't necessarily have to have high test scores," he said.
He thinks some of the best teachers he ever worked with might not have been able to enter the profession based on today's standards.
"But they understood the slow learner and how to work with them," he said. "Some of my best academic teachers had a hard time relating to those struggling students because it was easy for them."
Here are the recommendations from Dr. Rosborg's report to the ISBE:
a. Lower the retirement age from 67 to 62 for Tier 2 and Tier 3 teachers. 67 is too high especially since states next to us like Missouri allows full retirement as early as 53 years old. Illinois is second only to New Jersey of high school seniors heading to out of state universities. Perceived poor pay, retirement incentives, working conditions, and teacher blaming is an issue. For this researcher, I feel this is the number 2 impactor on young people leaving Illinois High Schools for out of state universities.
b. Offer Grow Your Own incentives. This program provides opportunities for current high school graduates in the local community to come back and teach in their home district. This? Grow Your Own? plan should also include a pipeline for paraprofessionals to become certified teachers. This is a matter of lessening restrictions that currently force paraprofessionals to quit their jobs to student teach.
c. Start Future Teachers of America clubs in high schools. These programs were popular in the 1960s and worked to raise the interest in public education.
d. Offer tuition scholarships to teacher education candidates. These state scholarships provided individuals such as myself the ability to attend college. I had to make a five-year commitment to teach in the state.
e. Provide hiring bonuses to high teacher shortage positions i.e. math, science, industrial technology, special education, and English as a second language.
f. Lessen restrictions on middle school, industrial technology, and elementary licensure. To be specific, middle school endorsement should return back to the same requirement prior to January 31, 2018 or I feel we will see a shortage in 5 years. Kindergarten should be placed back with the elementary licensure as this non-researched change has caused placement problems in many districts, and alternative certificates should be offered in the area of industrial technology.
g. We are too overregulated. Form a study group to study this. Regulate for success not failure. Establish achievable benchmarks. For example, ISBE recently set the meets/exceeds benchmark on the SAT state test 50 points higher than the benchmark established by the College Board of SAT which set the benchmark on the college ready student. The College Board based their decision of 50 years of research. Another example? the recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) guidelines sets up many schools in Illinois to be perceived as failures when many of these schools are excellent schools with fine instruction.
h. Illinois needs to change its attitude towards the education profession. Teachers changed my life. Instead of cursory awards, make them across the board. The Illinois Master Teacher Program in 1983 set up the winners to be mentors for other teachers. Again, funding never took place to implement this outstanding idea for teacher development and improvement.