JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – There are more than 3,000 improperly certified teachers in Missouri classrooms, and the state education department says it all goes back to the teacher shortage crisis.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has said that an inappropriate certificate refers to an educator who teaches in a content area for which he does not have the appropriate certificate. Assistant Commissioner for Educator Quality Officer under DESE, Paul Katnik, shared his thoughts on whether parents should be concerned.
“No teacher in a classroom comes in with nothing and just makes it up all day,” Katnik said. “There’s all kinds of support around them, the teacher they teach with, the administrators in the building, and there are lesson plans that are made for them.”
It’s a struggle that has been going on for years in the education system, a lack of teachers. Katnik said DESE was watching the decline in the number of educators before COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated the problem.
“Despite our early efforts, we weren’t changing the numbers and haven’t changed them yet,” Katnik said. “Now, when virtually every school district in the state is grappling with staffing issues, it’s no surprise.”
According to the teacher workforce report Katnik provided to the State Board of Education earlier this month, the content areas with the highest number of inappropriately certified teachers are in elementary education, followed by education special.
- Elementary 1-6: 523 full-time unskilled
- K-12 cross-categorical mild/moderate: 409
- Early Childhood Special Education B-3: 391
- Early Childhood Education B-3: 372
- Social Sciences 5-9: 281
- Physics 9-12:281
- Mathematics 5-9: 234
- Severely Developmentally Disabled B-12: 204
- Biology 9-12:199
- General Sciences 5-9: 191
“There are people who have provisional certificates because that means they’re working on a program, they’re getting extra coaching, extra support, while they’re finishing that program,” Katnik said. “There’s some sort of oversight from certified people and that’s always there for whoever is in the class with the students.”
He said those under-certified can also be substitute teachers. Overall, of the state’s 70,000 teachers, fewer than 5 percent are inappropriately certified.
But for the first time in years, Katnik also shared some good news with the board.
“I’ve been reporting for five years and have yet to use the word ‘optimism’ in any of those reports over the past four or five years, but I’ve done it this year because I’ve seen a slight increase in enrollment in our prep programs of teachers,” Katnik said.
He said this means that there are people who have been accepted into a college of education and have started their preparation process. There has been a 25 percent increase in teacher preparation programs since five years ago, but it will take time before supply is adequate to meet demand.
“Typically, we’ll see after there’s an increase in enrollments, a couple of years later we’d expect to see an increase in completers which would then lead to an increase in certificates, so they’re actually out in the workforce to help fill our classes,” Katnik said.
In the governor’s budget request, he wants lawmakers to fund the Career Ladder Program, a way to give a raise to experienced teachers who help with extracurricular activities. Parson also wants the General Assembly to fund the basic salary grant program for teachers, raising starting pay to $38,000.
Last year, the General Assembly funded the Teacher Salary Grant Program for the first time. More than 356 school districts, approximately 70 percent, across the district have joined the program this year. Under the program, the state pays 70%, with the rest going to the district.
Many school districts across the state are also switching to four-day weeks due to teacher shortages. The shortened week is used as a carrot for potential candidates. This year, more than 140 school districts are using a reduced week, most in rural areas, an increase of more than 100 schools in just four years.
Four-day weeks currently interest less than 10 percent of students in the state.
The Independence School District just outside of Kansas City voted last month to implement a four-day week starting next year. With nearly 14,000 students, it is the largest district yet to make the switch.
In October, the Blue Riband Commission on Teacher Recruitment and Retention released its report to the State Board of Education.
These recommendations come after months of research into what can be done to combat the teacher shortage:
- Increased initial teacher salary to $38,000 and annual review by Joint Education Committee to ensure teacher salaries remain competitive
- Fund the Career Ladder Program which rewards teachers for extracurricular activities
- Establish sustainable funding for Grow Your Own programs, aimed at paraprofessionals, adults or high school students who want to become teachers
- Encourage districts to implement team teaching models
- Establish a fund to help local school districts pay for the minimum starting salary increase and to raise overall teacher pay
- Increase mental health support for educators
- Fully funds scholarship program that offers tuition assistance to incoming teachers or educators continuing their education
- Offer salary supplements to fill high-need positions
- Fund salary subsidies for teachers with National Council certification
The commission also recommends that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) expand its annual report on teacher recruitment and retention to include data on salaries for each local school district, teacher turnover broken down by student performance and by race , a comparison of starting and average salaries with surrounding states and openings that were posted in the past year and the number of applications received for each opening.
In June, the State Board of Education voted to expand test scores in hopes of getting more certified teachers. By changing the state’s qualification score, more than 500 teachers could be added to the workforce.
According to DESE, approximately 550 teachers fail to score on the certification exam for one to four questions. Those applicants have already completed their accredited program but did not score high enough in the exam.
In April, the board approved expanding test scores for elementary certification exams by a standard error of measurement (SEM) of -2 after a new assessment was implemented in August and enough educators had not got quite high scores.
In June, the board decided to change the qualifying score to -1 SEM starting immediately. This means that someone missing a handful of questions would be certified.