Education officials in Colorado have started a summer-long statewide listening tour to find a solution to a growing teacher shortage crisis. The state needs to fill thousands of empty teaching positions, but enrollment in teacher-prep programs is also falling.
Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd speaks with Katy Anthes (@KatyAnthes), the state's education commissioner, and John Jacobson, dean of the Ball State University Teachers College, about a problem that goes far beyond Colorado.
On dealing with the teacher shortage in Colorado
Katy Anthes: "We won't have empty classrooms of course. But we will be needing to provide emergency licenses for teachers and make sure that those classrooms are covered. But they might not be covered with the ideal situation, where you have a highly prepared math teacher in those classrooms until we can find that expertise for that classroom. But we will still have the classrooms covered, for sure."
"Just like everything, it's not a one shot solution. It's a complex situation that we need to address from all angles. We really do want to hear from the different communities how the teacher shortage is impacting them. The solutions may be a little different. For example, one of the things we know we need to tackle is housing. Housing shortages, or expense of housing in certain communities in Colorado, really almost prices some teachers out of the market for their living arrangements, and so we need to tackle that. In some of our mountain communities, mountain resort communities, they just don't have enough affordable housing for teachers."
On teacher compensation
KA: "I think it is certainly a big component of it, for sure. And we do have, even statewide, our starting teacher salaries are lower than the U.S. average, for sure. Colorado gives a lot of control to districts in setting their own salaries, but you're right. There is budget implications to this. And that's a whole other complex situation around school funding and state funding for our education system."
"We need to make teaching — which is a noble, impactful, amazing profession — we need to really make that profession attractive, and really be able to have a living wage to do it."Katy Anthes
On new teachers' lack of preparation
KA: "We are absolutely concerned about that, and we're working very hard. I will say our districts are very innovative and inventive, and they're solving these problems on a case-by-case basis, and it doesn't necessarily mean that there's not a really wonderful, qualified individual in those classrooms. It's just we need to think more systemically about making sure those people have the professional development, the support and the training they need. We're sort of tackling it from all these different issues, including recruiting from the communities of folks that have those skill sets and can provide that education to our students."
On the difficulty recruiting new teachers nationwide
KA: "We are tracking that as well, and I think a lot of my state colleagues are facing the same things, and this is one of the main topics we talk about when we get together. We need to make teaching — which is a noble, impactful, amazing profession — we need to really make that profession attractive, and really be able to have a living wage to do it."
On the nationwide decline in students obtaining education degrees
John Jacobson: "Ball State University is one of the largest preparers of teachers in Indiana. And we too experienced about a 35 percent decline over a few short five years. And that has been turned around a little bit at Ball State University because of our efforts, but I know that some universities are still seeing declining enrollment."
"This is something that as a society we really need to work on, because it is the future for us here in our country to have a well-educated population. And that only can occur if we have high-quality teachers."John Jacobson
On the impact of national education legislation
JJ: "I think it started really more with the No Child Left Behind legislation, where the high-stakes testing was rolled out nationwide, and so the culture was shifted to conform to certain ways of teaching. There was a Gallup poll back in 2014 that showed that teachers scored dead last among 12 occupational groups in agreeing with the statement that 'your opinion counts at work.' And couple that with low pay, little autonomy, higher accountability. There's also been a decrease in the professional development dollars."
On initiatives aimed at addressing the teacher shortage
JJ: "Our state legislature in the last session created an opportunity for the top 200 students in Indiana who they'd like to become teachers, to provide them with a nice grant of up to $30,000 to help them with their educational costs. That's a real positive step. Is that enough? Perhaps not. But when you couple it with, we're trying to work with our school districts to create what we call Teacher Cadet Programs, where we work with the schools in setting up those who are interested in becoming teachers to have those students work and get some experience.
"Every year I meet with all the freshmen teacher candidates coming in. And I ask how many of them have always wanted to be a teacher, and I get probably 80 to 85 percent of the hands being raised. But then I ask the question, 'So how may have had a close friend, or a family member or someone whose opinion you really trust discourage you from going into teaching?' And I have 100 percent hands going up. This is something that as a society we really need to work on, because it is the future for us here in our country to have a well-educated population. And that only can occur if we have high-quality teachers, who [don’t] come in and stay for a few years, but stay for many years and devote their time and effort into our children."
This article was originally published on June 22, 2017.
This segment aired on June 22, 2017.