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Missouri's teacher workforce faces growing challenges, state report says

Missouri's teacher workforce faces growing challenges, state report says

January 20th, 2019 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Julie Smith/News Tribune Jason Wise is shown working with eighth grade students during American History class Friday at Blair Oaks Middle School. Wise is in his fourth year teaching at the school in Wardsville and is one of three male teachers in the building.

The number of candidates for teaching jobs have dropped sharply. The teaching workforce remains predominantly white and female. Most teachers who are new to the job drop out within the first five years of their careers.

Those are some of the conclusions of a report presented this month by Missouri's K-12 education department on the status of the state's teacher workforce.

"We have a lot of less-experienced teachers, less coming through the pipeline, and yet, (teacher quality) is the most important factor when we talk about kids being successful. That's kind of a dangerous recipe," Paul Katnik told the News Tribune on Thursday.

Katnik is the assistant commissioner in the Office of Educator Quality within the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and he presented the "Report on Teacher Workforce in Missouri" to the State Board of Education on Jan. 9.

The Office of Educator Quality focuses on teacher development, effectiveness, preparation, recruitment and retention.

"Everything, to me, in the report points to, 'Do we recognize how very important teachers are, and does that show up in a lot of the systems and structures we have in place?' That, to me, is kind of the big takeaway," Katnik said.

Among the report's findings:

The number of people enrolled in teacher-preparation programs in Missouri increased by 5.6 percent between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. However, Katnik said that percentage previously "dropped for three years straight. This year showed the first, very small positive gain, but we've not near made up for the decline that's happened over the three previous years." He added the previous three years' decline added up to a 30 percent decrease in the state's pipeline of new teachers.

Enrollment of men in teacher prep programs increased 0.1 percent — to a total of 1,719 candidates in 2016-17 — compared to a more than 8 percent increase in the number of women enrolled — a total of 6,307. Between 2012-13 and 2017-18, the percent of teachers in the state who are white has basically remained unchanged, at about 93 percent, and the percent of teachers who are black has also remained stable at about 5 percent.

The state's overall teacher retention rate has essentially held steady at about 86 percent. However, the percent of districts' teacher hires each year who are first-year teachers declined by almost 5 percent between 2013 and 2018, while the percent of new hires from other districts or out-of-state increased.

"I think it's still the same story line, which is by and large, we have less people who want to be teachers," Katnik said.

His report included the results of a national poll that's been taken 12 times over the past 50 years, asking parents if they would like their child to become a teacher — in 1969, 1972, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1990, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2018.

"For the first time since the question started getting asked in 1969, parents have confidence in teachers but tell their kids they don't want them to be one, and that's at the highest rate it's ever been," Katnik said. In 1969, 75 percent of parents who responded to the poll said they would like their child to become a teacher, and 15 percent said no.

In 2018, 54 percent said no, and 46 percent said yes.

"Another one, too, is low unemployment. Schools take a hit, they suffer in low unemployment rates. When (unemployment) goes up higher, then we do better," Katnik added of what else affects enrollment and hiring.

In terms of retention, he said the biggest losses to the workforce happen in the first five years, when two-thirds of new teachers are gone by the fifth year.

"Those are the years that we have to do the best job of providing support — not just assigning a mentor to someone, but having someone in a really comprehensive induction program, where we socialize them into the entire profession, where they've got numerous people in the school district that they can to as a resource," Katnik said.

"We're kind of putting water in a bucket with a hole at the bottom," he said of trying to grow the state's pipeline of teachers if retention isn't also addressed.

"I think we have to do everything we can do to build succession planning," he said of DESE's work to promote "Grow Your Own" programs — have school districts recruit their future teachers from their own student bodies, partner with colleges and universities to educate those students and give them classroom experience, and then hire them back into the school district.

Katnik said in the same survey that 27 school districts told the state about their programs "another 100 school districts said, 'We're really interested in getting one and building a Grow Your Own program, but we don't have one.' That says to me there's a lot of school districts that recognize that the future of employing teachers rests in them trying to recruit from their high school, and they need help getting those programs built."

DESE's online list of school districts with such programs — which is still being updated, Katnik said, and doesn't yet include districts including Sedalia — includes school districts in Columbia, the Ozarks, Fort Zumwalt, Parkway and Raytown.

Jefferson City Public Schools has cited the importance of developing a local recruitment program to internally create future teacher candidates. The district's director of human resources, Shelby Scarbrough, also said in October that the district is working with Lincoln University's education program to build a connection with a group there meant to support men of color in education.

The News Tribune asked Blair Oaks R-2 school district's Superintendent Jim Jones on Friday if his district is looking into or has looked at a Grow Your Own program — "Not as a formalized program; we actually have little teacher turnover annually. We do have a number of our current certified teachers and classified staff who are graduates of Blair Oaks," he said.

When it comes to the percentages of white and non-white teachers, the numbers have basically held steady.

"I can tell you that data is so consistent," Katnik said. "I don't know that we maybe have done the best job we can of asking other kinds of people if they want to be teachers. Have we done a good job in schools that have higher percentages of non-white students? Have we done a good job of trying to recruit in guys?

"I think we just need to make a much more intentional approach to asking all different kinds of students to be in the profession. I think when we do that, when we increase the diversity of the profession, the profession's going to get stronger and better," he added.

Katnik said the state board has asked him to come back in February with thoughts about actions "to make ourselves a little smarter about the issues and start thinking about how to address them."

He thinks the issues will require a consolidated effort between DESE, higher education, professional associations, K-12 districts, the governor's office, legislators, media and businesses.

"We have more teachers reaching retirement age. We have more teachers with less than 10 years experience. We have less coming through the pipeline. It says there's going to be some challenges here finding good people to be teachers, and yet, it's a hugely important thing. It's hugely important for the workforce of the state, and it's hugely important for all the parents out there who really want their kids to have a great education," he said.