Of the 65,000 teachers currently working in Tennessee public schools, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) estimates that about half of these teachers will leave or retire in the next decade. As we welcome more new teachers into Tennessee classrooms, how well these teachers are prepared for their careers will directly affect student achievement.
Over the past year, Tennessee has taken important steps to improve teacher preparation. In addition to launching a redesigned report card on educator preparation programs (EPPs), the state also revised criteria for reviewing and approving programs. Most recently, the Tennessee Department of Education released Preparation Through Partnership, a report on the state’s teaching pipeline that examines supply and demand for teachers in districts and makes recommendations for addressing teacher shortages in ways that meet local needs.
Data in the report show that Tennessee is experiencing shortages of available teachers who are qualified to teach English as a second language (ESL), world languages, and science. These shortages also differ by district. Urban districts are more likely to face ESL gaps because of the growing English learner population in those school districts, while rural districts have difficulty attracting world languages teachers. Authors of the report recommend increased communication between EPPs and districts about hiring needs, including forecasting of open positions in future years.
Last fall, SCORE released a report about teacher preparation in which we also recommended the need for greater collaboration between districts and EPPs. In particular, we noted the potential of induction programs, a structured support system for new teachers, to better help new teachers transition into the classroom. There is also some research to suggest that high-quality induction programs could help increase retention rates of new teachers.
The TDOE report also briefly discusses the need for greater racial and ethnic diversity among the state’s teachers. According to 2014 data, approximately 84 percent of Tennessee school districts do not employ a single Hispanic teacher; 18 percent of schools districts do not have a single African American teacher. SCORE’s 2016 report stressed the need for greater racial and ethnic diversity for several reasons. First, all students should expect to see a diverse group of role models leading classrooms. Second, there is considerable research about the positive effects that teachers of color can have on the academic achievement of all students. Finally, the teaching population should be representative of students in our public schools. Students of color make up 36 percent of Tennessee’s student population, but just 15 percent of Tennessee teachers identify as teachers of color.
During the TDOE report release event, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen announced several grant programs planned for this year to support the work that remains. For example, the department’s Innovation Grants will focus on promoting diversity among EPPs; high-demand endorsements such as ESL, secondary math, and science; and collaboration in the area of literacy. The state also plans to invest $100,000 in targeted districts to increase the diversity of the teaching population. This level of state support has the potential to improve teacher preparation in the state. This sustained improvement will help ensure that all Tennessee students have access to new teachers that are prepared for the classroom on day one.