Report shows increase in state’s teacher shortage

A report released at the beginning of February shows the teacher shortage in Minnesota is growing more serious.

The “2017 Report of Teacher Supply and Demand in Minnesota’s Public Schools” was released by the Minnesota Department of Education and shows several trends that threaten the quality of education in Minnesota’s public schools.

The Minnesota Department of Education surveyed superintendents, other district or school personnel and members of teacher preparation institutions in the fall of 2016. The state produces a report on this topic every two years.

Major takeaways from the report include:

  • The number of teachers reported as leaving their positions has increased 46 percent since 2008-09. Resignations for personal or unspecified reasons are by far the most common reason teachers leave their jobs, surpassing retirements, promotions, transfers to other schools, layoffs or terminations for performance.
  • A competitive job market and low salaries for teachers are considered the two biggest barriers to retaining teachers, according to school hiring officials.
  • Hiring officials report the limited number of applicants for job openings is a larger barrier to hiring qualified teachers than licensure standards.
  • Schools are finding it more difficult to hire short-term and long-term substitutes than reported in recent years.
  • The most difficult positions to hire continue to be in special education, math, science and rural schools.
  • The number of the non-licensed “community experts” working in Minnesota schools has more than doubled from 367 in the 2011-12 school year to 861 in the 2015-16 school year. Schools may hire “community experts,” who are not legally required to have a college degree, when an appropriately licensed teacher is not available.

“The shortage of qualified teachers has gone from an issue, to a problem, to a crisis, in only a few short years,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “We are losing too many great teachers because they can’t make ends meet, they feel disrespected by politicians and they’re incredibly frustrated by excessive testing and other policies that limit their ability to do the jobs the love—teaching students. At the same time, the private sector needs well-educated, hard-working people with strong communication skills—and it is willing to pay for them.”

“Of all of the teachers I know, they came into this profession to support students,” said Maria Le, a third-grade teacher in Roseville. “They are not given the support to fuel their passion, so they leave the profession. I had seven jobs to get myself through college. Now, I have two jobs outside of teaching, just to keep me in the profession.”

One of the positive findings in the report is that teachers of color now make up 4.23 percent of Minnesota teachers and nearly 8 percent of newly licensed teachers are teachers of color.

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Le, an Asian-American woman, said that our state’s achievement gap and the lack of support from the state is drastically affecting our recruitment and retention, especially of people of color.

“If we’re not graduating our students of color, they are not going to college and getting into the teaching profession. And if they do, there’s a good chance they will leave in the first five years,” she said.

Specht hopes this report will push lawmakers to do something about the problem.

“Districts won’t hold on to great new teachers if those teachers keep coming up short every month after paying for health insurance, housing, living expenses and their student loans,” Specht said. “More experienced teachers won’t stick around if they can’t afford to save for college for their own kids. And all educators are tired of being ignored on school policies and crushed by redundant paperwork, especially in special education, and increasing demands with decreasing supports. Everyone loses when passionate and professional educators are forced to choose between their obligations to their families and the responsibilities they feel for Minnesota’s students.”

In 2016, Education Minnesota’s Educator Policy Innovation Center released a report called “Smart Solutions to Minnesota’s Teacher Shortage: Developing and Sustaining a Diverse and Valued Educator Workforce.”
The team of educators from throughout the state looked at why the teacher shortage is taking place and potential solutions.

Le, who was part of the team, said that it is up to educators to fight for these solutions.

“Educators must continue to keep at the forefront the moral imperative of why you came into the profession,” she said. “We need to recognize the power of our collective and organize. If we continue the pursuit forward, we must eventually be heard.”

In order to retain high-quality educators, Education Minnesota recommends:

  • Increase support for teacher autonomy so teachers are empowered to meet the changing needs of their students.
  • Provide additional financial benefits to all current educators with additional incentives for educators of color.
  • Invest in quality professional development for all educators. Provide additional resources to allow educators of color to seek professional development for their unique needs.
  • Decrease the paperwork and unnecessary stress on educators who work with students with special needs.
  • Give more attention to the mental health and well-being of all educators. Minnesota must give particular support for the well-being of educators working in high-needs schools.
  • To recruit a diverse and talented teaching force, the report recommends:
  • Creating programs to promote the teaching profession to high school students, with an emphasis on reaching students of color.
  • Designing and fostering grow-your-own programs aimed at candidates of color who already work in education.
  • Providing resources so school districts and teacher training institutes can create new programs to recruit a racially diverse workforce of future educators.
  • Providing additional financial support to attract highly qualified teachers, including higher starting salaries and effective loan forgiveness programs.
  • Additional incentives should be considered, including housing assistance for recruiting teachers in rural schools and high-needs schools.

The full supply and demand report can be found on the Minnesota Department of Education’s website, www.education.state.mn.us. The full EPIC report can be found on Education Minnesota’s website.