Empty classroom

Empty school classroom

AUSTIN — If all else is the same, teacher turnover is expected to increase, education experts warned this week.

During a House joint committee meeting Tuesday, Texas lawmakers continued to grapple with how to address teacher retention in the state as educators are leaving the profession in droves.

Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, reminded lawmakers that teacher retention is not just a Texas problem, but a national problem - one that could have severe impacts by the year 2030, he said.

In the report evaluating all of the SREB’s 16 member states, there are currently 1.3 million teachers serving about 19.4 million students. By 2030, if trends remain, the member states will have about 1.8 million teachers serving 27.3 million students, proving a greater gap in the teacher-student ratio.

In addition, the report found that the current teacher turnover rate for the represented states is about 10%, with teachers with less than five years of experience accounting for 45% of those. By 2030, the SREB predicts the teacher turnover rate will be about 20%, with 56% of teachers leaving the profession with less than five years in the classroom.

Pruitt added that he is concerned this could result in greater reliance on uncertified or emergency certified teachers, which has the potential to increase from the current 4.3% of all educators to 5.4%. This, he said, would leave 16.1 million students in the member states with educators who are underprepared or inexperienced in the classroom.

One of the most cited reasons why teachers said they are leaving the field is that they do not feel prepared to do the job, Pruitt said. He recommended state leaders consider expanding the classroom experience requirement for student teachers beyond a single semester, as well as mentorship and professional development programs.

“This work around teacher shortages is incredibly critical,” Pruitt said.

JoLisa Hoover, a teacher specialist at Raise Your Hand Texas, also said the current political landscape surrounding educators and curriculum has caused fatigue, adding that lack of respect and appreciation for the profession is a leading reason why she has heard educators are choosing to leave the field.

Across the state, teachers, librarians, administrators and board members have been deeply and constantly criticized by conservatives over the last few years, first for COVID-19 protocols, then for available books and curriculum decisions.

“Teachers describe to us the whiplash of being considered a hero at the beginning of the pandemic, when they were credited with keeping us all connected and even keeping students fed, to more recent events where they feel pretty disrespected,” Hoover said.

A report by the Charles Butt Foundation released in early September found that 77% of teachers polled have seriously considered leaving the profession compared to 58% in 2020. Among those who have seriously considered leaving, a majority — 93% — have actively taken steps to leave the profession within the past year, it said.

State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, urged fellow lawmakers to consider their own actions that may have exacerbated the crisis. While the state has been facing a teacher shortage for years, he said recent legislative actions may be what has pushed educators out of the field more rapidly.

Bernal said educators he has spoken to said the state’s response to the pandemic, books regulation, curriculum debates, and the targeting of certain student groups such as transgender youth or immigrant students, have all contributed to their reason for leaving..

“if we don't address the things that we've done, or haven't done to contribute to that problem, on top of these sort of age old, every-state-experiencing situations, then we're going to come up with a solution that ignores one of the largest contributing factors to teachers leaving,” Bernal said.

As for solutions, education experts acknowledged that it is a complex issue but cautioned lawmakers to not try to address the problem by lowering educator recruiting standards, allowing less qualified individuals to fill positions simply because they need to be filled.

This is of special concern to Michael Marder, executive director and co-founder of UTeach, a university-based secondary STEM teacher preparation program at the University of Texas at Austin. Marder told lawmakers that the state continues to face a decreasing number of prepared educators.

“The number of new teachers from high quality pathways has been dropping for a decade. Well more than half now come from roots where they prepare a little if at all,” Marder said.

Instead, experts suggest lawmakers listen to educators, as well as invest in teacher recruitment strategies — such as scholarships for aspiring teachers — strengthen teacher development by raising the standards for all education preparation programs, and providing professional development opportunities.

Hoover said to her, the 77% represents a tally of broken dreams.

“We have the opportunity to make teaching a sustainable dream for Texans who want to become teachers,” Hoover said. “Quite simply, we can't recruit our way out of this crisis.”

She added: “We heard teachers saying they need respect, a realistic workload, a positive, safe work environment and higher pay. And that regardless of how many people we are able to recruit into the classroom, solving our challenges rests in how the state approaches incentivizing effective teachers to stay in the classroom in a way that helps all school districts.”

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