State fights to recruit, retain teachers

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

The Illinois State Board of Education is looking at ways to address the teacher shortage plaguing Illinois. A statewide campaign to elevate the teaching profession is one proposal in a new ISBE report. (Photo from ISBE)

Getting more teachers into Illinois classrooms will take a multifaceted approach, according to education leaders.

The Illinois State Board of Education points to inadequate school funding as one of the reasons for school districts having trouble getting classroom leaders. Ninety percent of the teacher vacancies in the state last year were in districts with below adequate funding as determined by the ISBE’s Evidence-Based Funding model.

EBF is a formula created by the State Board of Education that measures what an adequate funding target is for each school district in the state based on enrollment numbers, its region in the state and nearly three dozen other factors. Districts listed at 100 percent have enough money through state dollars and local taxes to adequately cover educational needs for all their students, according to the State Board of Education.

“This is a crisis of underfunding,” state Superintendent of Schools Tony Smith said in a Sept. 13 media call. “We have a critical shortage of teachers in classrooms. We need a broad teacher pipeline.”

Part of the push to get more potential teachers will be a statewide effort to heighten awareness of the job.

“We will have a statewide campaign to elevate the teaching profession, especially teachers of color, because our workforce does not reflect our student population,” Smith said. “We need to streamline the pathways to the teaching profession.”

The campaign to elevate the teaching profession is just one of the solutions to the statewide teacher workforce crisis examined in “Teach Illinois: Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms,” a report addressing the state’s record number of unfilled positions.

ISBE officials contend that fully investing in the Evidence-Based Funding formula will support school districts in the greatest need to implement proven models for improving teacher recruitment and retention.

Public comment is being taken on the report until Tuesday (Oct. 2). The report is available at Comments can be submitted at

The State Board of Education is expected to propose more detailed steps to address the teacher shortage at its Oct. 17 meeting.

“Every child in Illinois deserves well-prepared and effective teachers in their classrooms,” Smith said. “The State Board charged agency staff one year ago with thoroughly investigating the teacher shortage in Illinois. We have a statewide crisis, and now we have a suite of research-backed and targeted solutions.

“Getting serious about solving the teacher shortage crisis means increasing investment in Illinois’ underfunded school districts so they can implement proven teacher leadership, mentorship and pipeline models.”

Smith said developing teacher mentorship and induction programs is vital for recruiting and retaining teachers.

The Teach Illinois report connects and prioritizes recommendations based on national and state research studies and engagement with focus groups involving more than 400 participants across the state.

In addition to providing adequate funding for all school districts, and the communications and community outreach campaign, other recommendations in the report include:

  • Create leadership and mentorship structures for current teachers — Nationally, new teachers who do not receive mentoring and other support leave at more than twice the rate of those who do. The biggest supply of teachers for Illinois classrooms is returning educators, whose return rate hovers at about 90 percent. However, 54 percent of new teachers in Illinois leave their initial school of employment within the first two years. By the fifth year of teaching, 67 percent leave their initial school of employment and 25-30 percent leave the teaching profession altogether. The State Board points to the Chicago Public Schools’ Opportunity Culture schools and Tennessee’s Teacher Leader Network as effective models for teacher leadership that not only increase retention, but also expand the reach of master teachers and improve student achievement.
  • Support innovation in teacher preparation — The number of candidates enrolling in and completing teacher preparation programs in Illinois decreased 53 percent between 2010 and 2016. Teach Illinois focus group participants resoundingly agreed that a high-quality field experience is the best single way for teacher candidates to develop effective content, classroom management and data-driven decision-making practices. The report recommends supporting multiple avenues of entry into the teaching profession and encourages participation between school districts and preparation programs.
  • Develop teacher career pipelines aligned to meet demand — Bilingual and special education account for almost half of all unfilled positions. Additionally, the percentage of students of color in Illinois increased from 46 percent to 52 percent over the last 10 years, while the percentage of teachers of color remained static at around 15 percent. The report recommends developing pipelines to provide a seamless pathway from introductory dual-credit courses in high school into post-secondary preparation through licensing — especially in shortage areas, such as bilingual and special education. The Educator Prep Career Pathways program in the Northwest Suburbs’ District 214, Kansas City Public Schools’ Educator Rising program and the Portland Dual Language Teacher Fellows Program were pointed to as programs that provide models for teacher pathways.
  • Eliminate the Test of Academic Proficiency and explore alternative approaches to assessing basic skills — Currently, most teacher candidates opt to demonstrate the basic skills necessary for licensing through the ACT or SAT. Portfolio or competency-based assessments could provide more effective options while maintaining rigorous standards and high expectations, the report contends.