WASHINGTON — With enrollment in teacher education programs dropping and high turnover in the teaching profession, schools nationwide are struggling to find qualified instructors in many subjects, according to a recent study by the Learning Policy Institute.
The nonprofit organization recently highlighted several programs that seek to boost teacher recruitment and retention. Some of those programs are in Arkansas.
Enrollment in teacher education programs is down, the report stated. But most of the teacher shortage is due to turnover, the report found, citing 2012-17 data.
Annually, 7.7 percent of teachers left the profession, the study found. In Arkansas, that figure was just 4.6 percent, it said.
The shortage of qualified teachers is “a serious problem that districts in almost every state in the nation are wrestling with,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, the institute’s president.
Since 2015, 40 states have reported shortages of math, science and special education teachers, she said. Many states also reported shortages in bilingual teachers and in vocational-technical instructors.
To cope, many districts turn to teachers who lack regular certification.
“Last year, when children started school, according to state data that we tracked on unfilled vacancies and uncertified teachers, students in more than 100,000 classrooms had teachers who were not fully prepared to educate them,” Darling-Hammond said. “Students of color, students with limited English proficiency, students in rural areas and high poverty urban areas and students from low-income families are the most likely to have under-prepared teachers.”
The institute’s report coincides with a report on teacher shortages by the University of Arkansas’ Office for Education Policy.
Titled “Arkansas Teacher Supply,” the UA report noted that “teacher supply is unequally distributed across Arkansas.”
“Schools located in rural areas may have greater difficulty attracting teachers, as may schools serving a greater percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Schools paying lower teacher salaries may have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers,” it said.
The state had 60,317 people with teaching licenses in 2017-18, but only 33,228 certified teachers, the report noted, citing Arkansas Department of Education data.
The applicant pool is highest in Northwest Arkansas and in urban and suburban districts. Fast-growing districts receive far more applications than districts that are declining, the report noted.
“Some of our districts have plenty of applicants for each position while others have none or very few. There’s a teacher shortage for certain districts, but not for others in this state,” said Sarah C. McKenzie, the UA office’s executive director.
There may also be a “shortage of teachers in specific subject areas,” the report noted.
“The demand for STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] and special education teachers is and has been greater than that for elementary, English, and social studies teachers,” it stated.
Teachers of special education, science and English as a Second Language have been in short supply in nearly every state since 1990, the UA report said, citing data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
In its report, the Learning Policy Institute highlighted Arkansas programs that focus on training future teachers and retaining educators who are already in the classroom.
The first, Arkansas Teacher Cadets, encourages promising high school students to consider a career in education. Participants take a college-level course that introduces them to the teaching profession.
State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who joined institute officials on a recent conference call highlighting the report, said the goal of Arkansas Teacher Cadets is to produce “home-grown” educators who will return to their hometowns and teach future generations.
“The good thing about this program is it does not depend on recruiting from someplace else,” she said. “These students, if they grow up, if they learn to teach where they live, we’re hoping they will remain there. Because generally they do.”
Ryan Saunders, one of the report’s authors, said the institute was looking for innovative state programs.
While it’s too soon to judge its effectiveness, “we saw this teacher cadet program as something that was really worth elevating,” he said. “This is something we think states should pay attention to.”
Jeff Dyer, teacher recruitment and retention program adviser at the Arkansas Department of Education, says the early signs are promising.
More than 500 high school students participated in the program at 58 schools during the 2017-18 school year, he said.
This year, nearly 80 schools are participating.
With “Grow Your Own” training and recruitment, “you’re essentially tapping into the talent pool you’ve got in your back yard,” he said in an interview.
The institute’s report also highlighted an Arkansas program that gives bonuses to teachers who obtain National Board Certification.
Under Act 937, which passed last year, the biggest bonuses will go to board-certified teachers who work in high-poverty schools in high-poverty districts or high-poverty charter schools.
The annual incentives of up to $10,000 are “a sizable, carefully crafted incentive to boost the number of expert teachers in the highest-need schools,” the report added.
Good training and good pay are both keys to building a successful teaching corps, Saunders said.
“It’s not just one solution. It’s a whole comprehensive approach that really is going to help tackle shortages for states and the country as a whole,” he added.