If there’s one thing I’ve noticed during my time in elected office, it’s that everyone has their own concerns and priorities about what their government needs to do better. Some people focus on crime levels while other people complain about taxes.
But if you talk to them long enough, nearly everyone, especially parents and grandparents, bring up their concerns about schools. Everyone agrees that we need good schools to prepare our younger generations so they can lead successful lives. Without a doubt, one of the biggest issues facing our schools is the shortage of good, qualified teachers.
The teacher shortage is one of those things that unites our state from top to bottom. Every school district is struggling when it comes time to hire new educators. Rural areas often have it a little worse than their urban counterparts, because they typically have smaller budgets to pay teachers and often have to convince them to uproot themselves (and likely their families) to come teach in a remote, rural location.
If you ask education experts, they’ll tell you that there are a number of things that deter young people from entering the teaching field. While we can’t expect to fix all these issues at once, we can work on the biggest problems as we identify them.
I, along with numerous education experts, school administrators, and teachers themselves, believe that our state has created a teacher assessment system that makes it harder for prospective teachers to earn their Professional Educator Licenses (PEL). Since 2015, Illinois has used the edTPA program, which is run by a company that hires outside people to evaluate teaching applicants.
This assessment involves numerous time-consuming and potentially unfair requirements, such as forcing teachers to record videos of themselves teaching and provide extensive written commentary of their experience while they are still in the middle of their student teaching program. Additionally, the assessment is $300 each time it is taken, which is no small amount to a college student. That cost is on top of any fees for extra preparation programs.
The idea behind the edTPA is to make sure we get the best teachers possible, and this is a laudable goal. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any strong evidence that the assessment actually has any ability to predict who will be a good teacher. We know that there have been teachers who scored well but struggled in the classroom, and others who were lucky to pass the assessment but became great teachers.
Before I served in the Illinois General Assembly, I spent 17 years as a member of the North Clay school board, including 12 years as president. I personally saw multiple student teachers who were doing a great job with kids in the classroom. These were teachers we would love to hire once they were licensed. Unfortunately, not all of them were able to pass the edTPA assessment.
We can do better. We know for a fact that most states either don’t use the edTPA, or don’t use it as high stakes requirement for licensure. Georgia, like Illinois, had been using the assessment as a requirement, but recently dropped it because they saw the barrier that it created.
Illinois had a good system before the adoption of the edTPA. Before 2015, prospective teachers were evaluated by their fellow teachers, field instructors, and university supervisors over the course of their entire student teaching program.
State government should be helping our schools to provide the best education they can, not creating artificial and arbitrary standards that run potentially great teachers out of the field entirely. We can move back to a system that was actually successful at developing and identifying quality educators.
I have filed legislation, Senate Bill 49, that would do just that. This legislation is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on April 20th. You can help ensure that this effort moves forward. You can fill out a witness slip demonstrating your support here: https://my.ilga.gov/Hearing/HearingDetail/18311
Darren Bailey is a Republican member of the Illinois Senate for the 55th district.