News Local/State

Triangulating The Teacher Shortage


Carter Staley/NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers have proposed a variety of plans to tackle the state's severe teacher shortage. This week, State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), bundled three popular concepts into one bill.

"These are three things that I hear almost in complete unison from teachers across the state, in small rural districts to larger districts, that in different ways impact the profession,” he told the Senate education committee.

Those three things:

  1. Remove a requirement for prospective teachers to achieve a certain score on a “basic skills test.” Currently, prospective teachers have to achieve certain scores on one of three standardized tests — the ACT (22), the SAT (1040), or the Test of Academic Proficiency, also known as the TAP. Illinois colleges and universities don’t allow students to proceed to advanced teacher preparation courses until they have achieved a satisfactory score on one of those three tests. Consequently, many people who want to be teachers never have a chance to get an education degree, because they can’t achieve those test scores.

  2. Restore the 6 percent cap for teacher pay raises that could be covered by the Teachers Retirement System. Last year, this cap was lowered to 3 percent. Districts were free to cover the difference, but teachers unions argued that few districts had the financial resources to do that, and 3 percent would barely cover inflation.

  3. Allow student teachers to be paid. Under current law, prospective teachers are required to spend one semester as a “student teacher,” working in a real classroom, under the supervision of a licensed teacher. But legally, student teachers cannot be paid. Removing this prohibition could benefit paraprofessionals — classroom assistants who used to be known as “teachers’ aides,” and typically earn minimal pay.

Manar’s bill attracted bipartisan sponsorship and won unanimous committee approval.

This bill is just one of Manar’s efforts to address the teacher shortage. On Tuesday evening, he announced on Twitter that he’s going to file legislation to "deal with" another teacher licensure requirement — a $300 test known as the EdTPA. That test occurs during the semester of student teaching, and involves videotaping the prospective teacher presenting a lesson plan to his or her students. Studies show 97 percent of student teachers pass this test. But Manar tweeted: "I’m of the opinion that the time has come to put all of these things behind us."

Manar is chief sponsor of another controversial measure to raise teacher salaries to a minimum of $40,000 by 2022.