Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli via Unsplash
No intelligent discussion about improving college attendance and graduation rates can fail to address the onrushing teacher shortage now reaching critical levels in South Carolina. The past school year opened 550 teachers short.
That explains why the state’s Commission on Higher Education (CHE), a statewide funding agency for educational initiatives in state-owned institutions of higher education, has unanimously approved a series of actions to boost educator preparation. The Commission must approve all academic offerings at public colleges, and help leverage the solutions it is helping to create, to the teacher shortage with private colleges and universities as well.
How We Ended Up with a Teacher Shortage
Increased demand for teachers, coinciding with declining recruitment and retention rates, is widening the gulf between teacher supply and demand in the state. Nearly 5,000 teachers left the South Carolina public school system last year, while the number of teachers hired from teacher education programs in South Carolina dipped again, down 25% since 2012.
Pay is cited as an issue by some teachers who leave the profession. The average teacher salary of $48,769 is $10,000 below the national average and about $2,200 lower than the standard average in the Southeast – but working conditions are their greatest concern. The constant testing, voluminous paperwork, strangling bureaucracy and challenging student conditions rank as more significant barriers to improved retention, teachers report.
The Impact Beyond the Classroom
The issue of teacher preparation and its impact on education in the state extends far beyond the classroom. South Carolina has been successful in attracting big employers, but the skills for many of the best jobs did not exist here. They have been filled instead by highly-educated people from elsewhere, whose arrival in the state has imposed immense costs on the existing population. In the Charleston area, infrastructure, flooding, and traffic issues have been exacerbated by the inflow of more than 12,000 people each year. An educated workforce could fill those positions without adding new residents.
The Commission on Higher Education has established a goal of 60% of adults prepared for the workforce by 2025 with some training beyond high school – either a college degree, workforce certificate or other credentials. Currently, just 42% of the state is currently prepared.
The Commission’s Involvement
The Commission has already begun its effort to combat the teacher shortage. First, it has started convening stakeholders to identify the key issues and possible solutions. It has identified a test that all teachers must take to enter the classroom as an impediment to recruitment. A teacher must pass each section of that said test or retake it in its entirety before he/she can enter the classroom. The Commission has recommended that the state Board of Education change the scoring so that teachers pass or fail the entire exam. The proposal has the support of state School Superintendent Molly Spearman.
“It’s a small idea with big ramifications,” said Terrye Seckinger, the 1st Congressional District representative on the Commission.
Seckinger was appointed to the Commission on Higher Education with two decades of experience in government and education, most notably as a founder of a private Mt. Pleasant school and then as a member of the charter school board. She says teachers are called to teach, not do administrative work.
“We need to pinpoint what the issues are and how we can change the environment,” she said. “There is too much testing. Teachers want to teach, not test and do paperwork. We hope we can deregulate and give principals the command of those ships to hire and fire teachers and be responsible for the results.”
Future meetings of the varied stakeholders on this issue are likely to produce more structural changes in teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention. As Confucius noted, even a thousand mile journey begins with a single step.