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States Should Use Data to Curb Teacher Shortages, Report Says

Are states doing enough to tackle teacher shortages? Not according to a new report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that tracks teacher policies.

Too few states are using data to determine if their supply of teachers is meeting the demand of school districts. Currently, 29 states track the number of teacher-prep graduates and their certification fields, according to the report. But only eight states compare those numbers against their local districts' hiring stats to make sure teacher-prep programs are producing the candidates districts need.

The report spotlights four states with "promising practices:" Maryland, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Tennessee. All collect extensive data on things like the number of preparation program graduates, their demographics, and teacher attrition rates. Maryland compares the number of ed program graduates with the number that districts are actually hiring, to see if the programs are creating a dearth (or surplus) of teachers in particular fields.

Massachusetts stands out for being the only state that actually requires preparation programs to demonstrate that they are training teachers in the areas that districts are hiring, a step that the report suggests other states should take.

"A state invests a lot of public money into higher education and should ask programs to demonstrate that there is an actual need that will be addressed by the program itself," said Benjamin Riley, founder and executive director of Deans for Impact, about Massachusetts' taking an active role in connecting higher education with the K-12 system. "Relying on chance to sort it out has been part of the problem. We have not seen enough programs oriented toward the acute need in this country for teaching English-language learners or students with special needs. In a time of scarce resources we can't just launch a thousand different programs without knowing if they are serving a need."

One of the obstacles, as pointed out by Elizabeth Ross, the managing director of state policy at the National Council for Teacher Quality and the report's author, is that not all states are collecting data and often the ones that do collect data aren't sharing it. "These numbers need to be public not only for transparency sake, but also to help teacher preparation programs identify areas of need and to help their candidates make good decisions," she said in an interview. 

Of course, some ed schools may balk at the idea of turning away aspiring teachers who don't wish to pursue certification in in-demand fields like math or bilingual education.  

In addition to making the data collected public, the report suggests states could do more to increase their pool of teachers in hard-to-staff areas. States would have to be willing to pay more for relevant prior experience to attract teachers trained in math or science, for instance. The idea is those people could make more money in the private sector.

The report also suggests that states consider hiring part-time teachers with expertise in high-need, hard-to-staff subjects like math or science. This would allow districts to tap into retirees and experts working in the private sector who may not want to take on full-time classroom roles. Madeline Will wrote in Education Week about a high-poverty district in North Carolina that addressed a persistent shortage of math and science teachers by creating its own licensure program

On the data side, Riley says there's still more work for states to do than just provide the numbers. It's not enough to use statistics showing that a program isn't training enough teachers who can work with students who are learning English, for example. Leaders from the state, ed schools, and even the district then have to come together to figure out how to redesign the preparation program in order to address that need. "States can't just sit back and say here's the need, you go forth and fix it in isolation," he said. "There has to be a comprehensive improvement agenda for programs that want to take on that hard work."


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