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Addressing Teacher Shortage in Illinois: Causes, Considerations, and the Benefits of Virtual School Partnership

Addressing Teacher Shortage in Illinois: Causes, Considerations, and the Benefits of Virtual School Partnership

Like many states around the country, Illinois is facing a significant teacher shortage. A recent report issued by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools (IARSS) found that over 1,000 teaching positions—over 20% of total openings—across Illinois for fall 2018 went unfilled or were filled by an underqualified professional, leading to a total of 225 classes being canceled. Additionally, of 85% of the superintendents surveyed for the report indicated that teacher shortage is a problem in their district, and 63% named substitute teacher shortages as a “serious problem.”

These shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels. Teachers are left with larger class sizes, faced with larger workloads, and asked to manage classes outside of their area of expertise. At the same time, students are at risk of missing out on the type of top-quality instruction they need and deserve in order to thrive academically.

Here, we’re taking a close look at what’s at the root of Illinois’ teacher shortage issues and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Causing Illinois’ Teacher Shortage Problem?

Teacher shortage in Illinois is a nuanced issue, and it’s impossible to attribute it to a single cause. However, several key factors can be identified:

Rural populations

Districts in Illinois’ southern region have been hit the hardest by teacher shortage challenges, and the reason is clear—this area is, by far, the state’s most rural. Districts serving the smaller Central and Southern Illinois communities struggle to offer salaries and lifestyle benefits (including access to housing, entertainment options, and walkability) that are competitive with urban areas, especially Chicago.

Complex teacher licensing requirement

As is true in many other states, Illinois’ current system of teacher licensure and renewal is a complicated process that has proved to be a contributing factor to ongoing teacher shortages, including substitute teacher shortages. In particular, the long-standing series of tests required for Professional Educator Licensure (PEL) in Illinois have proven to be a significant barrier to entry for many potential teachers. Complexities in the license renewal process can further undermine the perception of the teaching profession and erode job satisfaction, leading teachers to leave the field.

Shrinking teacher pipelines

New teacher recruitment and retention are absolutely critical to the ongoing availability of well-qualified instructors for Illinois students. However, as in other regions of the country, education is a profession that continues to struggle with losing prestige in Illinois and, in turn, highly skilled new members. In fact, data from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Teach Illinois initiative indicates that the number of candidates enrolling in and completing teacher preparation programs in the state between 2010 and 2016 decreased by 53%. Additionally, 79% of superintendents surveyed for the IARSS report stated that they saw significantly fewer qualified applicants for open positions as compared to five years ago.

What Illinois Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as Illinois’ ongoing teacher shortage inevitably takes time and sustained effort; there will never be a quick-fix for this problem. However, there are certainly concrete steps that administrators can take to manage immediate staffing issues and lay the groundwork for overcoming the broader challenge. Here are three options for Illinois administrators to consider:

Talk to local legislators

Advocacy efforts do make a difference. Talk to your local politicians about staffing challenges that your school or district is facing and how those challenges are affecting the teachers and students you serve. As much as possible, provide these legislators with concrete numbers and statistics to support your case. Overnight changes won’t happen, but over time, these conversations can lead to real and impactful policy changes.

Focus on workplace culture

You may not have control over the size of the applicant pool in your area, but you do have some, if not complete, control over retaining the high-quality teachers you already have. So, even if your school or district is working under significant financial constraints, do all you can to make your buildings outstanding workplaces. Prioritize teacher-induction programs to ensure that all new staff members you hire get started on the right foot—and stick around. Provide opportunities for all of your teachers to engage in mentorship, seek professional development, take on leadership roles, network with their peers, and voice their opinions and needs. The resource edWeb is a great place to start for free webinars and networking resources to share with your staff. Even small cultural shifts to prioritize teachers’ well-being can have a huge impact on finding and retaining the talent you need.

Consider a virtual school partner

Often,  virtual schools are understandably seen as competition by district and school administrators, and for many, they may not be a teacher-shortage solution that immediately comes to mind. However, partnering with such a program can be a practical, convenient, and cost-effective route to take to address staffing challenges. For example, Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy is a fully accredited virtual school that works with schools and districts to provide over 400 Illinois Learning Standards–aligned courses—including career and technical education, World Languages, and Advanced Placement® options—paired with high-quality teachers certified in the state. Students can be enrolled in EdOptions Academy courses as needed, enabling our Illinois partners to provide the courses students want, the flexibility to quickly fill staffing gaps when needs arise, and the ability to retain student enrollment. 

Interested in learning more about how partnership with EdOptions Academy can help your school or district manage teacher-shortage challenges? Check out this blog post on 7 Benefits of Partnering with a Virtual School!