TERRE HAUTE — According to an annual survey, 96.5% of participating Indiana school districts reported teacher shortages, the highest in the seven years of surveying school corporations.

Disciplines most affected are special education and math, according to the survey done by Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education.

The 2021-22 survey had 199 participating school districts, including some charter schools; Indiana has 290 public school corporations.

“This year and last have brought more challenges than many previous [years],” said Terry McDaniel, ISU professor of educational leadership, who oversees the survey. “As a result, we are seeing educators being burned-out, scared, disappointed, and no longer enjoying the profession. We are also seeing fewer people entering the profession.”

Last year, 87.5% of districts surveyed reported shortages, the lowest percentage in the seven years of the survey. The 2021 results represent a 9 percentage point increase.

COVID has had an impact, as well as anticipated trends with both new teachers leaving the profession and experienced teachers retiring, he said.

“When we look at the effects of [COVID] last year and this year coupled together, I think that’s been a big contributor to what we’re seeing in terms of the shortage now,” McDaniel said.

Also, surveys a few years ago predicted high percentages of new teachers leaving in their first five years, as well as veteran teachers expected to retire within five years. “I think we’re seeing that now,” McDaniel said.

As far as those pursuing teaching as a career, “We are seeing a slight increase of people coming into education as a whole, but that number entering hasn’t really caught up with being at the stage where they are applying for jobs yet,” he said.

The top six shortage areas remain the same, but there’s been a shift in the rankings. Those top areas are special education, math, science, elementary education, foreign languages and English.

Special education is still the top shortage area, but this year, “We have seen a huge increase in the districts reporting shortages in special education,” going from 66% in 2020 to 82% in 2021, McDaniel reported.

He has spoken with special education directors and superintendents. “I am finding huge shortages of multiple special education teachers in many districts,” McDaniel said. It is a concern for two reasons.

Districts are having to increase caseloads for the special education teachers, which can mean a high number of students being served by individual teachers. “How long will the existing special education teachers continue, especially if licensed in another discipline?” he asked.

Also, greater caseloads can mean that more individual education plans [IEPs] are not being met. That could lead to parent challenges and potentially, schools could be found in violation of the student’s civil rights, he said.

To compound the challenges, the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] will prohibit the issuance of emergency permits in special education, which state officials say will take effect after the 2021-22 school year. The state is taking a number of steps in response and will offer a “special permit” for special education teachers participating in alternative route special education licensure programs.

Also in this year’s survey, shortages in mathematics surpassed the shortages in sciences. Math shortages rose to 64%, the highest percentage in that discipline since McDaniel began the survey in 2015. It’s up from 47% in 2020, an increase of 17 percentage points.

The shortages in sciences went down from 61% of those responding to 54%. “These are still extremely high percentages in critical areas,” McDaniel said. Math and science are both assessed on ILEARN.

One of the challenges is that degrees in math and science can often lead to opportunities outside education that pay more and offer more benefits, McDaniel said.

The shortage in elementary education ranks fourth as it did in 2020 but increased by 10 percentage points to 47%. “Many more tenured superintendents can remember when an overabundance of elementary teachers existed,” he said. “This is no longer the case.”

For 2021, 94% of Indiana districts reported applying for emergency permits to fill teaching vacancies. Over 30% reported requesting six or more permits. Two districts requested over 200 emergency permits with two others requesting 95 permits. A total of 58% of districts reported hiring teachers outside their licensed areas.

Full-time substitutes were employed by 41%, which compares to 34% the year prior.

School district leaders were asked if the pandemic influenced hiring and retaining teachers.

• 26% said no effect.
• 39% stated it was difficult to hire teachers because of the pandemic.
• 21% said additional staff had to be hired to teach virtual classes.
• 2% indicated teaching staff had to be reduced because of a decrease in enrollment due to the pandemic.
• 11% offered additional comments including the difficulty hiring other staff members and the effects of stress due to the pandemic.

School district leaders were asked to mark other reasons for teachers leaving their jobs. Retirement and leaving for another district were the highest responses, followed closely by teachers leaving the profession for another career.

Brad Balch, interim dean of ISU’s Bayh College of Education, said the college “has experienced a subtle but persistent enrollment decrease in undergraduate teacher preparation. Considering a four-year rolling average, we’re down about 9%.”

Graduate education has remained relatively stable, especially among the graduate licensure programs, such as those leading to school psychologists, counselors, principals, and superintendents.

Looking to the future, “We’ll be focused on partnerships with school districts to deliver the programming they need in shortage areas such as special education, English as a new language, and dual credit certification. Also on the horizon are opportunities to partner with districts regarding the new high school Career Pathways options.

“One of these [Pathway] options is to become a teacher and we hope to offer attractive undergraduate minor and dual credit options that encourage high school students to become professional educators,” Balch said.
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