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Plugging the Teacher-Shortage Gap in Illinois

by Tom Hanlon / Aug 30, 2021

Teacher in an elementary classroom

Teacher shortages plague both the state of Illinois and the nation, as we all know. Nancy Latham studied how long College of Education graduates remain in the field—and came away with reassuring data.

The College of Education is having a significant impact on the workforce in the state of Illinois.

That’s one of several findings in a longitudinal study of 5,725 graduates prepared in University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professional educator licensure programs. The study’s principal investigator was Nancy Latham, the College’s executive director of the Council on Teacher Education.

“Over a 15-year period, from 2003 to 2018, over 93 percent of our teacher education graduates were employed for some time period in education within the state,” she says. “As a land grant institution, we are contributing to the Illinois workforce.”

College of Education Graduates are Persisting

In addition, 70 percent of graduates from that 15-year time frame are still employed in education. “Only thirty percent have left permanently,” Latham notes. “Those figures are very competitive and very promising.”

They are particularly impressive when compared to the understanding that 50 percent of all new teachers leave the field within five years.

“Some even say that half of new teachers leave the profession within the first three years,” she says. “And you have to remember, we’re at an institution that, probably much more than most, encourages its graduates to immediately think about graduate school. So an interesting follow-up would be, ‘of the 30 percent who permanently left, did they leave for grad school?’”

Latham notes that 50 percent of College of Education graduates in professional educator licensure programs were employed for all eligible quarters (meaning all quarters they could have been employed since graduating), minus a short hiatus.

“That figure puts us right there with national numbers, as well,” she says.

When asked why the Education at Illinois’ graduates rate well in persistence, Latham points to the faculty and clinical experiences. “Our programs are grounded in the expertise and research our faculty bring into the preparation coursework, and the strong and substantive clinical experiences provided in tandem with our school partners.”

Critical—and Accurate—Information

The study, relying on data from the College itself and from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), gives the College’s programs important information about their graduates, Latham says.

“It was a straight attrition study. It’s important to do this type of study. We are annually deeply examining the data, and I believe this is a model for how it should be done.”

Latham suggests the IDES study’s design is a great example for how state data on teacher workforce pathways and attrition should be longitudinally collected and analyzed. “As Illinois increases the pathways to becoming a licensed teacher, following each of the pathways in this model will help inform state education agencies and legislators in future teacher preparation directions that are best for Illinois learners,” she says. “Current models are limited by employment scope and longitude.”

To illustrate, she says, she herself would be considered a “leaver” because she is not working in a PK-12 Illinois public school. “Our graduates can be employed in for-profit infant-toddler programs, Head Start, private schools, and so on. They can be contributing to the field, but they come up as ‘leavers.’

“That’s very different from how we arrived at our persistence ratings, which is by looking at how many possible quarters you could have been employed, and how many you actually were employed.”

Unique Study Providing Baseline

That’s why, Latham says, the IDES study is unique. “For our field, I think this was the most thorough design we could come up with.”

Latham says the results of the study were reassuring. “They’re exactly what I thought they would be.”

She wants to continue doing the study to see what happens when graduates hit the 30-year mark. “At that point, teachers could potentially be retiring. Seeing the data would be interesting.”

From their current data, she also wants to dig deeper into the teachers who graduated from 2003 to 2008, as that data could provide a truer window into persistence.

“It’s an important baseline that we need to be doing statewide and nationally, to know where our teachers are, when they persist, and when they don’t,” Latham says. “And we need to be able to account for the variables involved, such as shifting legislative mandates and preparation requirements.

“We have to have a system in place to watch it over time.”