Minnesota School Boards
ST. PETER - Minnesota is experiencing a teacher shortage throughout the state as our school districts see a sharp decline in applicants for open teaching positions.
In its “2015 Minnesota Teacher Supply and Demand Report,” the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) revealed that the demand is up and supply is down for the teaching pool - and that this should be a concern for policymakers.
Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA) officials toured the state last fall and heard this concern first-hand from hundreds of public school board members. The consensus from our school board members: that Minnesota’s teacher licensure process has become overcomplicated and messy, and prevents good teachers from reaching the classroom. Our board members told us this teacher shortage is affecting them in all areas of instruction - from art, to career and tech, to business classes, to foreign languages and to special education.
The recent “Minnesota Teacher Licensure” report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor also shed some light on this shortage. According to the auditor’s report: “School districts and charter schools have reported serious concerns about teacher shortages … 80 percent of respondents said it was ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to fill vacant teaching positions for the 2015-16 school year.”
In its summary, the auditor wrote: “While there are many causes for the teacher shortage, legislators and others have identified teacher licensure as a contributing factor.”
The auditor’s report, several newspaper stories across the state and legislative hearings this month have raised the awareness that our state’s complex licensure system continues to make the process difficult for prospective new teachers.
Another study shows that 3,504 teachers (6 percent of our teaching force) are teaching without the proper license. Also, the number of new licenses awarded during the last five years has decreased by 7 percent.
In a letter to Minnesota Department of Education Commission Brenda Cassellius, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education designated 28 teacher shortage areas. One-third of those shortage areas is made up of licensed special education teachers - where there is a growing need. Other key shortage areas include science and math - areas we need to excel in, in order to contribute to a strong Minnesota economy and compete nationally.
Hiring the most effective and dedicated teachers is one of the school districts’ most important duties. A highly effective teacher is the No. 1 indicator of academic progress for students. Research shows students actually lose ground from underperforming teachers, sometimes needing two years or more to make up for lost learning. If we do not have an adequate pool of effective candidates, student performance will suffer.
MSBA and its members are continuing to find solutions to this issue. Back in 2014, the MSBA Delegate Assembly (a body comprised of school board member delegates) passed a resolution urging the Minnesota Legislature “to provide school board members more flexibility in hiring and retaining high-quality teachers.”
In MSBA’s 2016 Legislative Priorities, we are calling on the Minnesota Legislature to pass a comprehensive “Teacher Shortage Act” that would include short-term and long-term strategies to attract high school and college students into the teaching profession and increase the number of teacher candidates licensed in Minnesota. We’d also like to see efforts made to help attract out-of-state licensed teachers to Minnesota.
MSBA has identified several potential solutions that we will introduce in a bill during the 2016 legislative session:
1. Broaden the scope of licensure for “hard-to-fill” areas such as science and special education - and provide flexibility in allowing licensed teachers to teach outside their license authority as long as they can pass the appropriate test or attain a certain level on their performance review.
2. Implement “Grow Your Own” grant programs that would allow local school boards to identify the needs and opportunities in their communities that would promote a pathway for teachers and paraprofessionals into the public schools.
3. Attract qualified teachers by expanding the MSBA-initiated loan forgiveness program or other incentives - especially for student teachers who commit to teaching in “hard-to-fill” degrees such as computer science, chemistry and business.
4. Implement a “one-stop shop” statewide job posting board to match teacher openings to teacher candidates that would help our school districts find or hire teachers from a more diverse pool of applicants.
The issues will not get fixed overnight. MSBA is taking a long-term approach to this matter. We view this has an opportunity to modernize our teacher workforce so our students can achieve at the highest level.
We can’t ignore this issue. Our students are depending on us to step forward to get highly effective teachers in the classroom.
Kirk Schneidawind is the executive director of the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA).