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Colorado education officials hope these three ideas will reverse the state teacher shortage

Education Commissioner Katy Anthes and Executive Director of the Department of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed take questions on the state's teacher shortage. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado education leaders are zeroing in on three broad ways to curb the state’s teacher shortage: increasing compensation, improving preparation and training, and “lifting the profession.”

While specific strategies are still being fleshed out, those three themes were highlighted Wednesday at a press conference held by Katy Anthes, the state’s education commissioner, and Kim Hunter Reed, the executive director of the department of higher education.

“We have a lot of work to do to talk about the profession that makes all other professions possible,” Hunter Reed said.

Anthes and Hunter Reed spoke to reporters as the two departments are wrapping up a series of forums across the state to gather input on how to best the shortage, which is especially pronounced in rural Colorado and in high school math and science classrooms.

The departments are tasked with creating a strategic plan to present to state lawmakers by December. The department heads said the plan will provide a mix of approaches that lawmakers, local school districts and communities can deploy based on individual needs.

One suggestion that has been a crowd favorite at the town halls is a statewide base-salary for teachers, officials said.

Share your solutions on the teacher shortage
There are three more town halls to address the teacher shortage:
  • 4:30 p.m., Aug. 23 at Las Animas Elementary School
  • 4:30 p.m., Aug. 30 at Vilas School in Collingwood
  • 5 p.m., Sept. 6 at Monte Vista High School.

However, neither Anthes nor Hunter Reed would commit to making such a recommendation to the legislature. Such a mandate would likely require an extensive influx of cash to schools, or at the least drastic cuts to other school-based programs at the local level. The latter scenario would infuriate superintendents in smaller school districts who are already feeling the squeeze to increase the required minimum wages for other workers.

“The answer doesn’t have to be to raise the entire school finance formula,” Anthes said, adding that changes to compensation could include loan forgiveness and block grants.

Both stressed that it would take more than new state laws to boost the number of new teachers and keep current teachers in the profession. That’s especially true, they said, when it comes to reframing the public conception of educators.

“You can’t legislate value and professionalism,” Hunter Reed said.

“We need to lift the profession of educators,” Anthes said. “I do think teaching is harder than rocket science.”

More specific ideas the departments are considering include developing new training at the college level, increasing awareness of alternative ways to become a teacher and providing educators better access to affordable housing.

“It’s a lot of little things that we hope add up,” Anthes said.

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

Gold standard teachers

Tennessee adds nationally certified teachers but continues to trail in the South

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat

Twenty Tennessee educators have earned a national certification that’s considered the profession’s highest mark of achievement, although the state continues to lag in the South in growing that community.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released the list of new educators designated as National Board Certified Teachers.

Their addition brings Tennessee’s number of NBCT educators to more than 700, with another 63 pursuing certification. By comparison, Kentucky has 3,600, Virginia 3,400, and Georgia 2,600.

“We know that teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators who are helping their students grow, while serving as an example of what it means to be a lifelong learner,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Nationally, 5,470 teachers earned the designation in 2016-17, raising the total to more than 118,000 through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The certification takes from one to three years to complete and includes a performance-based peer-review process. Successful candidates must demonstrate a proven impact on student learning and achievement.

In Tennessee, at least 36 school districts offer at least one type of incentive for achieving the certification. The most common is a salary bonus.

North Carolina continues to lead the nation in certification, with 616 more teachers gaining the endorsement last month from the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

Earning their certification in Tennessee were:

  • John Bourn, Franklin Special School District
  • Christy Brawner, Shelby County Schools
  • James Campbell, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Kimberly Coyle, Sumner County Schools
  • Suzanne Edwards, Williamson County Schools
  • Anastasia Fredericksen, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Theresa Fuller, Kingsport City Schools
  • Amber Hartzler, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
  • Jennifer Helm, Williamson County Schools
  • Deborah Higdon, Franklin Special School District
  • Karen Hummer, Franklin Special School District
  • Heather Meston, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Melissa Miller, Franklin Special School District
  • Kelsey Peace, Sumner County Schools
  • Lindsey Pellegrin, Franklin Special School District
  • Andrea Reeder, Williamson County Schools
  • Jordan Sims, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Susanna Singleton, Williamson County Schools
  • Melissa Stugart, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Drew Wilkerson, Franklin Special School District

To learn more, visit the website of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.