October 2, 2018

Illinois State Board of Education
100 N. First Street
Springfield, IL 62777

Members of the Board:
We thank you for your efforts to understand and address the teacher shortage that is negatively impacting our schools and students in the state of Illinois. While all of the recommendations in the Teach Illinois report have merit, we believe prioritizing the following in your work moving forward will have the greatest impact on addressing the teacher shortage Illinois is facing.

Prioritizing the Recommendations

Based on data from a survey of and focus groups with the current cohort of Teach Plus fellows, we
strongly support Recommendations VII.4, V, VII.1, IV.1 as effective or highly effective measures to
address the teacher shortage. Details on our suggestions follow.

  • Recommendation VII.4: Advocate for adequate funding.
    • In every focus group session, the need for adequate funding was repeatedly discussed at length. Inequitable funding in Illinois has played a role in creating the current teacher shortage. Locations across Illinois have vastly different resources available to facilitate learning, which impacts both student achievement and teacher working conditions. Inadequate funding has also contributed to varying compensation scales, where adequately funded districts attract more teachers with their higher pay than underfunded schools who are in desperate need of educators.
    • Achieving funding adequacy targets will greatly increase school districts' flexibility to meet student needs, the accessibility of resources, and the ability to develop working conditions to retain quality teachers in their schools.
  • Recommendations V.1 and V.2: Authorize a study on teacher licensure requirements, and evaluate approaches to the basic skills assessment with a goal of maintaining a high standard for licensure while increasing flexibility and responsiveness to the field.
    • Focus group members frequently advocated for the need for differentiated, authentic routes into education beyond traditional pathways and the current assessments. They highlighted the stark contrast between the way they differentiate for their students in the classroom, and how as teachers they are expected to all demonstrate competency through a uniform assessment.
    • We believe that the study proposed in V.1, in which ACT/SAT, portfolio, or GE measures are to be compared, would be useful in delineating the strengths and weaknesses of different tests. We also believe that this information would be vital to informing the creation of differentiated pathways into education.
  • Recommendation VII.1: Provide research-based guidelines for teacher induction.
    • Focus group members emphasized the need for consistency when developing mentorship and teacher induction programs. Many of our members have served as mentors or mentees with specific insight into mentorship programs, and they identified a broad continuum of quality and effectiveness within these programs. Providing guidance for districts on the components of quality mentorship programs will be an essential step in retaining teachers.
    • Providing local boards of education and district administrators with research on the needfor mentorship and the ways in which retaining teachers can improve student learning while easing the financial burden that high teacher turnover causes, can help clarify why mentorship should be available for all early career teachers.
  • Recommendation IV.1: Study innovative approaches to teacher preparation.
    • One teacher stated that, "this sounds good, but it needs teeth."
    • Possible refinements to this recommendation include looking at exemplars from across the nation (as mentioned in the Teach Illinois report), as well as following directions suggested by the Teach Illinois Brief that highlight experiential learning, results-based approval processes, and techniques in social emotional learning (SEL) and trauma informed instruction.

Clarifying Some Recommendations

We believe that some of the recommendations warrant clarification or additional details in order to determine their effectiveness. Below are components we feel should be included in any action taken on the specific recommendations, in order to increase effectiveness.

  • Recommendation I: Elevate the Teaching Profession.
    • The current negative perception of teachers is complex and runs deep. It has an impact on whether people choose to enter and remain in the teaching profession. We see value in actions such as CPS highlighting educators through online news blasts to shine ampositive light on educators in their communities, but we also realize that school personnel may be seen as cheerleading for themselves rather than changing societal perception. We believe that an effective campaign would involve individuals outside the  teaching profession expressing the value of educators and their dedication to student success.
    • An additional advocate for the teaching profession would be higher education institutions. Colleges and universities can promote the benefits of teaching careers to parents and high school students while they explore courses of study. There is a great window of opportunity to help create a more balanced perception of teaching as these institutions work simultaneously to grow the the number of students entering their educator preparation programs.
  • Recommendation II.3: Identify common postsecondary teacher preparation foundational courses and facilitate additional dual-credit certification paths so these opportunities can be expanded statewide for interested students.
    • Dual credit earned as a high school student has the potential to provide students fromunderrepresented groups the opportunity to gain experience prior to entering the teaching field. Those students’ financial constraints may limit their opportunities for exploring a career in education, and a dual credit program in secondary school might counterbalance any potential financial constraint.
    • For students who decide to pursue teaching, dual credit coursework completed in high school would allow students to meet their required credit hours sooner, significantly reducing the cost of college and lowering a barrier that prevents potential educators from pursuing the teaching profession.
  • Recommendation V.1: Authorize a study on teacher licensure requirements to inform future policy recommendations.
    • In addressing and revising requirements for holding a teaching license, we believe that each potential position needs to be analyzed to discover what requirements arenreasonable. Positions’ focus areas will vary, and these requirements should adequately represent the variance. Some guiding questions could be, “What does a educator truly need to be effective in each content area?” and, “What does an educator truly need to be effective in each grade level or developmental level?"

Partnering with ISBE in Carrying Out Recommendations from Teach Illinois

  • Recommendation VII.2:
    • We would like to extend our help in studying and recommending effective mentorship models, and also in working to develop a checklist based off effective models for teacher mentorship programs to be implemented across the state.
  • Recommendation: IV.1:
    • We would like to extend our help in surveying teachers in Illinois regarding educator preparation and program effectiveness. We would be able to develop research-based questions, gather data from representative teacher populations, and analyze our findings into useable recommendations.

Respectfully Submitted,
Teach Plus Policy Fellows

Signers of the Letter:
Corinne Biswell, West Prairie CUSD #103
Jessica Kwasny, Park Ridge-Niles School District 64
Benjamin Rodriguez, Barrington 220 School District
Claire Trainer, Chicago Public Schools
Lucretia Weck, NBCT, Oblong Community District 4