As the country continues to face challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers, Kentucky Commissioner of Education and Chief Learner Jason E. Glass and others from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) presented before the Interim Joint Committee on Education on June 7 to discuss how to increase and maintain the state’s teaching workforce.
Glass began his presentation by inviting committee members to reflect on their own experiences as learners and to share who they consider to be a great teacher in their lives.
Representative Tina Bojanowski said her favorite educator was her 7th grade math teacher at Jeffersontown High School (Jefferson County).
“My parents were going through a divorce at the time, and for some reason maybe he knew I needed a little more [care] without ever saying it,” Bojanowski said. “Since that day, I have loved learning math.”
Representative Ed Massey said teaching can have a big impact on people’s lives.
“The most important thing for me in a quality education is that there is a disposition to love and care for children and to ensure that all children have the capacity to succeed,” said he declared.
Glass told members that it is important to remember what exceptional teaching looks like and its impact when decisions are made to support teachers and the teaching profession.
“We want more people like the very people you thought of … to enter the teaching profession and stay in the teaching profession,” Glass said.
To illustrate Kentucky’s need for more educators, Glass presented members with current data regarding teacher retention and recruitment. The teacher turnover rate – the number of teachers leaving the profession each year – was 16.2% for the 2020-2021 school year. On average, from the 2017-2018 school year through the 2020-2021 school year, teacher turnover in Kentucky has been approximately 17%. The national turnover rate hovers around 16%, Glass said, so Kentucky fare slightly worse than other states when it comes to retaining teachers in the classroom.
When jobs are posted, Glass said, not enough are filled. Between the 2015-2016 and 2021-2022 school years, the number of job offers has increased. But on average, only 83.5% of these positions have been filled. Glass said this demonstrates that Kentucky is seeing an increase in the need for educators, but only filling them at a steady rate.
When jobs are posted but there aren’t enough properly certified teachers to fill them, districts resort to emergency certifications to help fill the gap. Since the 2015-2016 school year, Kentucky has seen an increase in the number of emergency certifications issued.
“It’s a clear indication that we have a growing labor problem in Kentucky,” Glass said. “We are seeing an increased reliance on emergency certifications to meet the need for educators.”
Glass said another factor KDE wants to look at is the number of teachers in the state who are at risk of leaving, whether it’s losing early-career teachers who are most likely to leave during their first five years of teaching, retired teachers or those returning after a break in service. For the 2022 financial year, 72% of the teaching staff belong to one of these risk categories.
Glass said it’s important to consider the paths new teachers take when they enter the teaching profession. Although many options have been added over the years, the majority of educators in Kentucky choose either the traditional teacher education programs or Option 6, which is an alternative program run by a university.
“If you want to have an impact on teachers entering the profession, the biggest places where you can do that … are in the traditional education program or in the university alternative program,” he said.
Glass shared possible short- and long-term solutions for the Kentucky legislature to consider when addressing teacher issues. These solutions focus on investing significant resources in GoTeachKY, the state’s existing program to recruit and retain teachers in the Commonwealth; addressing the teacher pay crisis; and increase the opportunity and diversity of education.
KDE’s recommendations for short-term solutions include:
- Increase access to teaching and learning career path courses for all Kentucky high school students;
- Create scholarship opportunities associated with the participation of Educators Rising, the student career and technical organization for middle and high school students interested in the field of education-related careers;
- Increase investment in a comprehensive GoTeachKY marketing campaign;
- Support the identification of a District Recruitment and Retention Coordinator;
- Provide dedicated funds to alleviate barriers to teacher recruitment, such as relocation costs, license fees, and start-up funds for new classes of teachers;
- Accelerate existing mentoring and reimbursement for teacher licensing exams;
- Increase funding for National Board certification to help teachers with the cost of becoming a National Board certified teacher; and
- Fund a professional development portfolio for each teacher to empower teachers to choose professional learning that is relevant and meaningful to them, giving them control over which dollars or credits they can use to pay for their own learning experiences.
Long-term solutions suggested by KDE include:
- Expand grant opportunities for schools to establish teacher recruitment programs;
- Augment GoTeachKY programs using experienced teachers and quality professional learning;
- Support the development of recruitment and retention plans for districts;
- Reduce the student burden of education with publicly funded student education. Teacher candidates are not paid for their teaching and are not allowed to hold a separate paid position at the same time
- Create alternative licensing exam opportunities;
- Create leadership pathways for teachers; and
- To provide professional and decent salaries for educators in Kentucky.
Glass encouraged lawmakers to think about the teachers they praised at the start of the presentation.
“What can we do as a state to make sure more people like these enter the teaching profession and stay in the teaching profession,” he said. “That’s really the challenge we have in front of us.”