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Rigor Vs. Reality: ISBE Tackles The Teacher Shortage

Carter Staley
NPR Illinois

The Illinois State Board of Education used their monthly meeting Wednesday to host a conversation on possible solutions to the state’s worsening teacher shortage. The board is looking for ways to maintain high quality standards without discouraging potential teachers from entering the profession.


Afterwards, the agency’s chief education officer, Ralph Grimm, said there is no single solution.


“Two and a half hours of testimony I think really reinforced to the board how deep and structural the teacher shortage issue really is across the state, that its effects are felt differently in different parts of the state, but all over the state,” he said.

“What I appreciated today was the emphasis on urgency for short term solutions that don’t diminish the profession, that don’t diminish the quality or the rigor of the programs, because we’re going to have classrooms remain empty next August like we did last August, and it’s unacceptable.”

The meeting was held in two relatively small rooms — one in Springfield, one in Chicago — connected by video conference. Every seat available at the Springfield site was taken; a few people sat outside in the hallway. The Chicago site was also crowded.

The discussion focused on two valves on the teacher pipeline: testing requirements and preparation programs. Both standards had been tightened in recent years. The state raised its “cut scores” for the standardized tests teachers take, and doubled the time commitment — from one year to two years — for “alternative certification,” which allows people who already have a bachelor’s degree to earn a teaching license.

Several educators told the board those changes could have exacerbated the teacher shortage.

Currently, to earn a teaching certificate in Illinois, you have to hit high scores on the SAT, the ACT or an equally rigorous exam known as the Test of Academic Proficiency (or TAP). But with so many classes now being taught by less-qualified substitute teachers, superintendents and ISBE officials seem to agree on removing the “basic skills” requirement.

“In my opinion, I think we do,” Grimm said. “The universities, before they say this is a candidate for licensure, will have to attest that the skills have been covered and mastered.”

At least three lawmakers are moving their own plans for addressing the teacher shortage through the legislature. Each of those measures would remove one or more requirement. ISBE chair Darren Reisberg wants to ensure the board weighs in before any of those measures become law. He cautioned that Illinois should maintain priorities and not “take the easy way out” by lowering standards.

But Chuck Lane, superintendent of Centralia High School District 200, told the board the current system doesn’t guarantee good teachers. He pointed to a member of his staff — a man who has a bachelor’s degree and is working as a paraprofessional, helping special education students. The man wants to become a teacher, but can’t afford to take time off to meet current requirements. Meanwhile, there’s a substitute teacher in charge of a special ed class.

“Where’s the rigor in that?” Lane asked.


After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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