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Addressing Teacher Shortage in Wisconsin

Addressing Teacher Shortage in Wisconsin

Like many states around the country, Wisconsin has faced a significant teacher shortage in recent years. School and district administrators have found themselves scrambling to fill open positions with qualified candidates and have been forced to find creative, and at times, less than ideal, solutions to overcome this issue. And, these shortages come with negative impacts on multiple levels—teachers are left with larger class sizes, larger workloads, and classes outside of their area of expertise; 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’ll take a look at what lies at the root of Wisconsin’s teacher-shortage issues and what administrators can consider doing to meet specific challenges in their own buildings.

What Is Causing Wisconsin’s Teacher Shortage Problem?

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

Large rural population

Nationwide, rural areas face the greatest teacher-staffing challenges, as it is difficult for small communities to offer salaries and lifestyle benefits (including access to housing, entertainment options, and walkability) that are competitive with more urban areas. Wisconsin has a significant rural population, with 30% of state residents living in rural areas, in comparison to the national average of only 19.6%.

Complex teacher-licensing requirement

This report from a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) State Superintendent’s Working Group cites difficulties with the state’s teacher-licensing system as a contributing factor to teacher shortages. The working group found that perceived complexities and significant investments of time and money involved in licensing and credentialing across subject areas, including some related ones like different science disciplines, are a barrier to filling positions in high-demand subject areas. Additionally, the report states that options for out-of-state educators to gain Wisconsin licensure are time-consuming and complicated, limiting that potential candidate pool.

Impacts of Act 10

Wisconsin’s 2011 passage of the highly controversial Act 10, which greatly reduced public-sector workers’ collective bargaining rights and slashed benefits, must be discussed as a driver of significant increases in teacher turnover and reduction in new teacher pipeline. A study from the Center for American Progress Fund found that median teacher salaries have dipped by 12.6%, or over $10,800, since passage of the act; the number of teachers leaving the profession annually spiked to 10.5% from 6.4% the year before the act was passed; and Wisconsin teachers’ average years of experience has dipped from 14.6 years to 13.9 years. The DPI report also points out that Act 10’s elimination of teacher seniority and tenure has created a “free agency” environment of stiff competition between districts for teaching talent and put districts with limited financial resources at an increased disadvantage.

What Wisconsin Administrators Can Do to Overcome Staffing Challenges

Addressing an issue as complex as Wisconsin’s 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 Wisconsin administrators to think about:

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. In fact, Wisconsin recently approved lifetime educator licenses, simplifying the teacher licensure process for educators with advanced experience to maintain their license.

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 public 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 nearly 300 Wisconsin Academic 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 Wisconsin 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!'s picture
Sarah Cornelius

Sarah Cornelius is an Associate Product Manager at Edmentum and has been with the company since 2014. In her role, she works to provide educators with engaging and insightful resources. Sarah received her B.S. in Professional Communications and Emerging Media from the University of Wisconsin - Stout.