Illinois teacher shortage serious, still growing

8/12/2019, 9:24 p.m.
Four years after its debut, a new statewide study from regional school superintendents finds Illinois’ serious teacher shortage continues to ...

Four years after its debut, a new statewide study from regional school superintendents finds Illinois’ serious teacher shortage continues to worsen, especially in school districts in central and southern Illinois.

The Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, (IARSS) representing the leaders of Regional Offices of Education and Intermediate Service Centers in all 102 Illinois counties, heard from more than 500 school districts statewide this fall on teacher shortages around the state. The survey found:

  • 85 percent of districts identified a major or minor problem with teacher shortages in their schools, up from 78 percent in 2018

  • More than 60 percent of districts report a serious problem with substitute teacher shortages, with only 3 percent reporting no problems with substitutes

  • Superintendents say 20 percent of all open positions for 2018 – more than 1,000 positions – remain unfilled or are filled by an unqualified professional, and 225 classes are being canceled because of shortages

  • 89 percent of central Illinois districts and 92 percent of southern Illinois districts have issues with staffing teaching positions with qualified candidates

  • In all parts of Illinois outside Chicagoland, more schools reported a serious problem with teacher shortages in 2018 than they did the year before. And the number of schools reporting the shortage of qualified applicants for teaching positions has grown significantly over the last five years increased in every part of Illinois last year

Teacher shortages are worse in certain subject areas: school psychologists, library/media specialists, foreign language, and blind or deaf instructors lead the list. Schools are having to make tough choices to deal with the problem.

More than 80 percent of districts report either canceling classes or programs because of a shortage of qualified applicants, or converting classes to online instruction. Most schools report shifting teachers who would be prepping to teach their classes to cover for absences, redistributing students to other classrooms or even requiring administrators to teach in place of absent instructors.

In contrast, districts overwhelmingly report few problems in finding qualified administrators for their schools. Nearly 70 percent of school districts report no problems with administrator shortages, and only 5 percent consider it a problem.

This marks the fourth year IARSS has worked with hundreds of school districts statewide to gauge teacher shortages, spurring an ongoing public discussion with legislators, school officials and advocates around the state with increasing intensity and urgency.

The original IARSS shortage survey, conducted during the 2015-2016 school year, found 75 percent of districts reporting seeing fewer qualified candidates than in past years, and 60 percent of districts had trouble filling teaching positions.

As awareness of the statewide teacher shortages challenges grows, IARSS has found more schools working proactively to address it: actively recruiting new graduates from local colleges and universities (80 percent); hiring replacement teachers before teachers retire (47 percent); and increasing base salaries for starting teachers (47 percent) lead the list.

IARSS makes three key policy recommendations as lawmakers and schools work together on solutions. Improve the teacher licensing process to streamline bureaucracy, especially for retired educators who want to work again in their home district. Expand programs for developing new teachers, such as Grow Your Own Teacher. Continue to collect and evaluate meaningful shortage data like used in this study to develop solutions for educator shortages.

Mark Jontry, president of IARSS and Regional Superintendent of Schools for ROE #17 covering four counties in the Bloomington-Normal area, said the study’s results show a troubling trend for districts to find qualified teachers and substitutes. But they reaffirm the commitment by many to turn around the results.

“The leaders of our Regional Offices of Education are lifelong educators with a real passion for teaching and nurturing children, and these numbers show while we are all aware of teacher shortages, we are losing the battle,” Jontry said. “We must do more to understand why fewer teachers are interested in positions in schools around the state and find concrete solutions to address those reasons. We will continue to work with our policymakers to make teaching an attractive career for young people, recruit talented educators from elsewhere and help those converting from other careers or looking to fill in after retirement get into the classroom. My hope is 2019 can be the year we start to reverse the trend of growing teacher shortages in Illinois.”