A national organization commissioned to analyze teacher shortages in Arkansas and propose remedies is calling for the state to ramp up and fine-tune strategies to turn aides, substitutes and other school workers into state-licensed educators.
“We think, and the state Department of Education thinks, that the ‘grow your own’ model that we are talking about here has the most potential for success,” Elizabeth Kelly, TNTP analytics director, said last week about resolving teacher shortages that are concentrated in south and east Arkansas.
“If we can get folks who are already in classrooms — either teaching but not fully certified, substitutes or paraprofessionals — who are already in these communities and want to work with these students in these schools, we have a greater chance to retain them long term,” Kelly said, “as opposed to trying to recruit folks from other places to move, which has not been historically successful.”
Karli Saracini, Arkansas’ educator licensure leader, said in response to the study that the state continues to address teacher recruitment and retention and pointed to initiatives — some ongoing and some new — to put nonlicensed school employees (and interested high school students) on track to gain state-issued teacher licenses.
The Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville asked TNTP — formerly The New Teacher Project founded by one-time Washington, D.C., school superintendent Michelle Rhee — to examine the extent and causes of teacher shortages in the state. The nonprofit group has as its goal to help school systems and states attract and train talented educators whose teaching can accelerate learning for all students.
“Missing Out: Arkansas’ Teacher Shortage and How to Fix It” reported that as many as 1,360, or about 4% of Arkansas’ 34,000 practicing teachers, do not hold state licenses to teach — compared with 1.7% nationally — and that another 3% are licensed but teaching a subject other than what they are licensed to teach.
A state license signifies that a teacher has at least a bachelor’s degree and a set level of mastery of the subject in which the person is certified. The Missing Out study notes that a state license by itself does not guarantee an effective teacher, but the fact that not all classroom leaders meet that bar is a problem.
The study’s authors call the shortage of licensed teachers a contributor to below-national average achievement by Arkansas students on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. That test is given to representative samples of students nationwide.
The shortage of licensed teachers is more pronounced in east and south Arkansas, and Black students are “five times more likely to attend school in a high-shortage district than white students,” according to data in the report.
Thirty of the state’s 238 traditional school districts — a number that excludes charter school systems — have 10% or more of their teaching staffs working without standard teacher licenses. In seven of those districts, the percentage is 30% or more. And in the Helena-West Helena and Forrest City school districts, the percentages of nonlicensed teachers exceed the percentages with licenses.
Those nonlicensed employees include some 400 working with state-issued emergency teaching permits, nearly 700 long-term substitutes and people hired by districts that have obtained state Board of Education waivers — permitted by Act 1240 of 2017 — from teacher licensure requirements because of district hardships in finding certified classroom leaders.
There are more than 1,200 teachers who are teaching out of their areas of certification, Saracini said.
Reasons identified by the national researchers for the shortages of licensed teachers include disparities in starting teacher salaries and average teacher salaries. Salary disparities of several thousand dollars between districts result in licensed teachers leaving or avoiding a high-shortage district for greater salaries elsewhere in the state.
Starting salaries range from $33,800 to better than $48,000 in Springdale in the northwest part of the state. A new teacher in the Earle School District earns that $33,800 while 30 minutes away in West Memphis, the starting salary is $42,300, the study notes.
Other contributing factors to teacher shortages in certain parts of the…
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