Iowa preparing for looming teacher shortage

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Iowa education officials are expecting to face a teacher shortage, and leaders are preparing to address the issue.

The state’s universities are graduating 400 fewer teachers, counselors and administrators annually than in 2013, the Des Moines Register reported. The Iowa Department of Education said about 2,100 graduates are earning education degrees a year.

Education leaders are hosting round-table discussions and increasing recruiting efforts, especially for jobs in special-education and English language learning.

The looming problem is also compounded by the number of teachers nearing retirement.

“My concern is if we go three to four years, and it sneaks up on us, we won’t have quality teachers to put into classrooms,” School Administrators of Iowa executive director Roark Horn said.

Some education officials are increasing incentives to lure applicants, such as Des Moines Public Schools’ $3,000 signing bonus to special education teachers. The district’s chief of human resources, Anne Sullivan, said another incentive for teachers beginning their careers is a free master’s program.

Education leaders have explained a variety of reasons for the lack of new teachers.

President of Iowa’s teachers union, Tammy Wawro, said that political backlash is to blame for the weakened respectability of a teaching career, resulting in college students being driven away.

“If my elected leaders, from the top down, really aren’t saying they support or respect education or public schools, it would really make me question whether that’s the route I would want to go,” Wawro said.

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2009 college education programs cost too much and don’t prepare future teachers enough.

While the state has since imposed stricter regulations on college education programs, it can make it more difficult to find teachers. According to state education department consultant Laurence Bice, Iowa educators must earn a required exam score in the top 25 percent nationally in order to pass.

Storm Lake elementary principal Juli Kwikkel said her school has not yet experienced any difficulties recruiting or retaining teachers.