What's happening at the state level to address the growing teacher shortage
Building better preparation programs is just one element of the state's strategy to address a growing shortage of teachers.
Other crucial approaches, officials say, include streamlining regulations that block people from entering the field, building more diversity among prospective candidates, and doing more to recruit and retain good educators.
Of 12,760 students enrolled in 695 college-level teacher preparation programs statewide in 2016-17, only 4,889 completed the coursework, data shows.
And among those who do go into teaching, not enough mirror the state's increasingly diverse student population, says Carmen Ayala, state superintendent of education.
Illinois' 2 million students are roughly 48% white, 26% Hispanic, nearly 17% black and 5% Asian. By comparison, the state's 129,178 teachers -- 77% of them females -- are nearly 83% white, roughly 7% Hispanic, 6% black and 2% Asian, according to the 2019 Illinois Report Card.
Additionally, nearly half the students statewide, 49%, come from low-income families, 12% are English language learners and 16% are on individualized education programs.
As of Oct. 1, Illinois school districts reported nearly 4,200 unfilled positions, including teachers, administrators and support personnel. Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties collectively had 3,073 unfilled positions -- 1,125 teachers, 836 paraprofessionals, 688 support personnel, 315 administrators and 110 other licensed staff members.
The greatest need is for teachers in low-income, special education, English language learner and science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM classrooms.
State education officials are looking to eliminate "unintended barriers" preventing people from going into teaching. That includes relaxing licensing rules and providing more flexibility for elementary teachers to move up grades.
New state law also mandates a teacher minimum annual salary of $40,000 by 2023 and allowing student teachers to be paid.
A long-term strategy aims to increase high school-level programs offering early childhood and other foundational courses, Ayala said.
Officials also are working on addressing teacher recruitment, residencies, recognition and retention. Teacher residencies place college students enrolled in teacher preparation programs in classrooms alongside experienced teachers for a year.
"We see this as an avenue to the profession for not only professional candidates, but also career changers, substitute teachers and paraprofessionals," said Emily Fox, Illinois State Board of Education's director of educator effectiveness.