Last week marked the first week of school for students in the Madison Metropolitan
School District (MMSD) and across the state. Those first days of school are filled with excitement for many – shopping for back to school supplies, gathering with friends, comparing notes about the summer, and meeting new teachers. However, as the district races to finish its hiring, some of this excitement has to wait.
Students at Sherman Middle School started the year without a choir or general music teacher. These students were ushered back into homerooms as a place holder until this position is filled. Teachers at Schenk, Marquette, Spring Harbor, Emerson, Black Hawk, Lowell, Chavez, and the Work and Learn Center also report unfilled positions in the areas of general education, music, instructional resource, dual language immersion, Spanish, and special education. As in recent years, calls for substitute teachers to classrooms are already being left unanswered. (Note: This was an informal request for data, and is by no means to be considered a complete list.)
This teacher shortage may come as a surprise to some, considering that Madison recently revamped its hiring process. As a part of this process, the school district moved 50% of its applicants on to the interview process. This increased the pool that principals had to hire from by the hundreds. In collaboration with Madison Teachers Inc., the district also moved up its hiring timeline in an effort to be more competitive, compete for minority applicants, and improve the overall quality of hires.
Despite these efforts, many positions remain unfilled and minority hires continue to hover around 13%, which is consistent with demographics of the current workforce. Of the new teacher hires this year, only 4% were African American, while just under 20% of our students identify as African American.
This problem with hiring is not unique to Madison. Districts such as Janesville, Waukesha, Portage, West Allis, and La Crosse reported a decrease in teacher applicants, and an increase in “last minute” hiring. In fact, as of the end of August, WECAN (Wisconsin Education Career Action Network) still reported about 1,000 open job postings. Special education positions are among the hardest, and arguably the most important, to fill.
It wasn’t very long ago that the teaching profession was extremely competitive. At the time when I was hired into the MMSD, only 10% of applicants received a job. There was a sense of pride at being hired on as an educator. With the passage of Act 10, stagnant wages that don’t keep up with inflation, and political attacks on teachers and public education, this sense of pride has been greatly diminished.
The pool of new teachers in training is also on the decline. The UW – Oshkosh has one of the largest teacher education programs in the state. Its enrollment in this program has dropped 25% over the past four years. UW – Milwaukee’s enrollment in education programs dropped a startling 23% over five years. The UW – Madison has also seen a drop in education enrollment over the years, but at a much more modest rate.
Some point to provisions in the state budget as a makeshift solution. One provision calls for the Department of Instruction to lessen the requirements of teacher licensure by allowing teachers who have taught in other states for at least one year to acquire a Wisconsin Teacher License. Another provision allows people with valuable life experience to become teachers, outside of the core academic subjects. Opponents of these provisions worry that diluting the requirements for licensure will only work to further dismantle our public education system, undervalue skilled educators, and undermine the quality of education students receive.
While administrators, politicians, and community leaders grasp for a solution to this shortage, students across the state are missing out on beginning of the year relationships. Whether this loss is with a missing case manager or music teacher, our students are certainly paying the price.