State Report Cards: A Starting Point for Addressing the Teacher Shortage

Education in America is at a crucial point. According to a report released in August 2018 by Learning Policy Institute, school districts all across our nation, regardless of location, economic bracket and racial demographic, are facing the crisis of an ever-growing teacher shortage. Hundreds of thousands of students began the school year without a certified teacher in their classroom and in Arizona alone we have had over 900 teachers resign and walk away from their classrooms since the school year began. This means not only are schools struggling to attract qualified candidates, but they are also no longer able to keep the educators they have. It also means that while thousands of students began the school year with a qualified caring educator with whom they had the opportunity to develop a strong relationship, thousands of others lost that opportunity.

The lack of qualified educators in the classroom has other impacts on the community as a whole. There are fewer supportive cheerleaders at sporting events to recognize a student’s first soccer goal, fewer sets of eyes watching for and reporting signs of abuse. When students do not have qualified educators, they also lack a trusted voice of comfort in times of emotional distress and miss out on having a consistent advocate for their social, emotional, and academic growth. Therefore, the teacher shortage not only creates an increasingly large challenge for the Human Resource departments in districts but, creates devastating deficits in the lives of students in all of our communities.

There has been much conversation about the teacher shortage, but as of today, little has been done to address the increasing numbers of teachers leaving the classroom. Conversations until this point have not produced policies that have been able to stop the mass exodus. However, the release of new district and school report cards may be a starting point for change.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires State Education Agencies (SEAs) to publish school and district report cards that better communicate a variety of data for parents and community members to make informed decisions about the schools in their area. The report cards must include more traditional indicators such as academic achievement, growth, and graduation rates. But they also require schools and districts to report, for the first time, the professional qualifications of their educators, including the number and percentage of novice personnel, teachers with emergency credentials, and those who are teaching outside their area of certification.

In many areas these numbers may shock school communities and cause parents to ask difficult questions of their neighborhood schools. This is exactly what needs to happen before the real work toward ending the teacher shortage can begin. Thanks to ESSA’s requirements, communities, school leaders and parents will see, for the first time, transparent information about the educators instructing their students. This is a prime opportunity to begin meaningful discussions with stakeholders to finally help address the teacher shortages in an impactful way.

Although there are numerous and complicated reasons for teacher shortages, many of them are embedded in complex systems and structures present in every state. To impact the type of true change needed to shift these systems in a way that has lasting results, the strong voices of parents and community members need to be in conversations with school and district leaders.

The report cards required by ESSA are a perfect tool that can be used to ignite change. At the very least, the state report cards will serve as a starting point for authentic dialogue about how to address the teacher shortage. The rest, Arizona, is up to you. How deeply do you value an educated populace?

Kristie Jackson, 2012 AZ Teacher of the Year, has worked in public education for over 18 years, having held the roles of kindergarten and third grade teacher, as well as reading coach/interventionist and professional development coordinator. She has obtained her Masters degrees in educational administration and supervision as well as curriculum and instruction with reading specialist and ESL endorsements. Northern Arizona University awarded her an Honorary Doctorate for her service as a state and national trainer and advocate for teacher leadership and implementation of high standards. Kristie has been honored to provided a teacher perspective in multiple media formats.