We’ve been talking about a “teacher shortage” in Indiana for a few months – but much of the conversation thus far has revolved around causes, not necessarily concrete solutions.
Most of the discussion has been based on anecdotes, – but the Indiana Department of Education did release some official statistics Thursday in the form educator licensing data. The numbers show that the IDOE issued 3802 initial practitioner licenses during the 2014-15 school year, down from 4806 during the 2013-14 school year – a 21% drop. The 2015 total demonstrates a 33% overall decrease since the 2009-10 school year.
The IDOE only counted educators who received multiple licenses once in this total. The initial practitioner license count includes administrative, instructional, and support services licenses, such as those awarded to counselors.
The data show that there is, in fact, a steady drop in the number of first-year educators granted a teaching license in the Hoosier state.
And data presented during the most recent meeting of Indiana’s Blue Ribbon Commission only further confirmed the problem. The group, convened by State Superintendent Glenda Ritz to develop statewide strategies for addressing the shortage, met for the second time Thursday.
According to the Great Lakes Comprehensive Center, the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs in Indiana has declined steadily since 2009. The biggest drop happened between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years, when 31 percent fewer students enrolled in these programs, according to federal data. That includes traditional and alternative options.
But aside from confirmation of the facts, the majority of the data presented Thursday is not news. And one commission member took the time to point this out.
When asked to put the cause of the recent challenge into words, John Jacobson, dean of the teachers college and professor of elementary education at Ball State University, said he couldn’t.
“I think the biggest challenge is we don’t know,” Jacobson told his colleagues. “We haven’t asked our high school students about their career paths.”
GLCC representatives presented some potential reasons, including data showing median salaries for Indiana’s classroom teachers lag behind the nation at elementary, middle and secondary levels, as well as limited opportunities for students to explore the teaching field early on – only 34 percent of state school corporations offer this for their high school students, excluding some of the biggest districts, like Indianapolis Public Schools and the Gary Community School Corporation.
But Jacobson pressed for, at the very least, a random survey of high school students to find out about the perceptions they have of the teaching profession. GLCC research associate Tara Zuber says that’s the goal – the kind of conversations her organization is facilitating with this Commission will help them craft the right kind of survey.
“If we’re going to do a good focus group, we have to ask the right questions,” Zuber says. “We can chase all over the place and hope we’re catching everything, or we can bring everyone together into one room and say, ‘what do we ask them about?'”
Ritz says the group is heading toward solutions at their next meeting on October 5. That’s when she says the commission plans to meet to go over data one more time before they begin to finalize their legislative agenda in November and December.
“Now we’ve seen the data for the first time, so we’re going to be talking about what are the root causes from the field – what do we feel is causing this – and then we’re going to be trying to narrow that down into some big buckets that we can actually have a conversation about regarding strategies,” Ritz says. “We’ll head toward the action kind of strategies at the next meeting, and then proceed to really combine the information retention and recruitment in kind of a whole package approach.”
The General Assembly’s Interim Study Committee on Education also plans to address teacher shortage information during their meeting on October 19.