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Ohio Struggles to Retain Teachers as Fewer Study Education

Teacher attrition is up in schools across the state as fewer students are choosing to study education at the collegiate level. Schools are searching for ways to fill the gaps, including increasing educator pay.

Ohio schools are struggling to retain teachers, a state report shows, and the growing rate of teacher attrition could signal an even bigger problem for future classrooms as the state’s pipeline of prospective educators is lagging.

A recent report from the Ohio Department of Education shows teacher attrition – those not returning to their jobs in the classroom – is up in schools across the state. As schools try to fill the vacancies, lawmakers in Columbus are considering ideas to fill the shortage —from allowing military veterans without college degrees to enter the profession to increasing minimum teacher pay.

Ohio’s teacher shortage is a nuanced story. While many districts have experienced anxiety trying to find teachers, the student-teacher ratio is lower than it was a decade ago because there are fewer kids attending public schools.

The shortages show up in certain grades and classes, and on a localized level.

An increasing number of educators are teaching classes they’re not licensed to teach, an indication that schools and districts are moving people around to fill vacancies.

And the worst of the shortages could still be coming, as fewer students are studying education in the state’s colleges and universities.

Teachers still in the profession described reasons their colleagues have left: feeling unsafe at school due to kids fighting, increasing responsibilities and not enough time to fulfill them, student behavior in the classroom, demands that students do well on tests, and losing the joy they once had for the profession.

Teachers are under more pressure these days, said Daniel Hershman-Rossi, a general music teacher for grades kindergarten through fifth in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District.

Hershman-Rossi has occasionally entertained the idea of becoming a stay-at-home dad— he said his kids are young and his wife has a good job — though he thinks he will stay in his job. He doesn’t, however, begrudge teachers who want to leave.

“It comes from above to show growth” in test scores from year to year, he said. “We have all these assessments they have to take. Classroom teachers are doing these math tests, and they’re doing OST (Ohio’s State Tests) and district pacing guides. And we also have other programs like International Baccalaureate, AVID (a college and career readiness program.)”

Hershman-Rossi doesn’t have to administer tests, but he feels the pressure on classroom teachers when he asks them for an hour with the students to rehearse for an upcoming performance. They tell him no, he said, because they need to prep kids for the next test.

“Those in themselves are wonderful programs and wonderful frameworks for our teachers,” he said. “But there’s just not time in our day to be able to do all those things”

Higher Teacher Attrition

The Ohio Department of Education found teacher attrition rates by district were up. Attrition, in addition to teachers leaving the profession entirely, includes those who move to another district or private school, or those who leave teaching to become school or district administrators.

The report also found increased attrition in Northeast Ohio – an 18-county geographical area studied by the Department of Education that spans from Erie to Columbiana counties with 379 school districts, plus charter schools and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) schools.

Attrition in urban districts in Northeast Ohio in 2021 was 10.5 percent, and 2.4 percent higher than the average over the previous five years. In Northeast Ohio suburban districts, teacher attrition was 7 percent, up 1.7 percent from the five-year average.

The highest attrition rate in the state was in urban districts in Southwest Ohio, where 14.5 percent of teachers didn’t return, an increase of only 0.6 percent compared to the five-year average.

Attrition “contributes to increased hiring demands on a district and potentially to a decrease in the regional supply of educators. Likewise, teacher turnover causes disruptions to the school composition and negatively impacts student learning,” the report said, citing academic research.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers surveyed 2,300 K-12 teachers and school support workers from March 16 to May 12. It found that 72.3 percent of respondents recently have seriously considered leaving their jobs and 54.4 percent have considered leaving K-12 education altogether, with the remainder considering changing school districts or job positions.

The reasons teachers gave for looking at the exit included student behavior, lack of autonomy and respect, mandates and directives from state policymakers, too much emphasis on standardized tests and technology, paperwork or administrative work.

The survey shows the issues that can be improved to keep teachers in schools, said Melissa Cropper, president of the OFT.

“We hope this is a clear message to legislators: trust educators to do our jobs,” she said. “Stop taking up bill after bill that would impose new restrictions and additional work for educators. Your actions are taking a toll in local public schools statewide.”

Marchell Josie, a special education middle school teacher in the East Cleveland City School District, normally teaches seventh-grade English. After the school lost a special education teacher, she added some sixth-grade classes.

“With special ed, they’re missing their services,” she said, adding that the shortage of special education teachers makes it hard to ensure students get Individualized Education Plans outlining how to help them learn.

Fewer teachers also means overcrowded classrooms, Josie said, noting that the high school in her district “is down almost 40-some teachers.”

“You’ve got students who are really not getting the subject of what they need. You’ve got substitutes in the building. It’s a concern of how are we supposed to educate the students if we don’t have enough staff,” said Josie, who was on a team that studied the teacher shortage for the Ohio Education Association.

Student-to-Teacher Ratios are Actually Lower

The state and federal governments don’t track teacher vacancies, but the Ohio Department of Education looked at full-time teacher employment statewide and found that it has shrunk by around 2,600 in the past decade – from 113,197 in 2012 down to 110,582 in 2022.

In that same time, Ohio’s student population decreased by 90,000, from nearly 1.8 million students in 2012 to almost 1.7 million in 2022. The student-to-teacher ratio is actually lower now than it was in 2012, dropping from 15.6 to 15.1.

Then there’s the pandemic, in which the number of teachers fluctuated up and down compared to 2019′s pre-pandemic number.

-In 2022, there were 110,582 teachers
-In 2021, there were 110,882
-In 2020, there were 110,350
-In 2019, there were 111,388

But even with a lower student-to-teacher ratio and a lack of large swarms of teachers exiting the profession, the Ohio Department of Education report states that teacher shortages could be more severe when examined locally, and by grade and subject area.

For instance, the “Southeast, Southwest and West regions of the state could be experiencing a greater need for teachers in middle and high school,” the report states.

Regardless of class size, teachers returning to the classroom after the pandemic have work piled up. Many students spent part of two years at home. They’re not just academically behind, but socially. They don’t know how to act in class, said Josie, the East Cleveland special ed teacher.

Josie described having to adjust during the first quarter of the 2021-2022 school year.

“I got frustrated at some point, I really did,” she said. “It was real hard to get back into the swing of teaching. When you talk about students having self-control. And you have to have classroom management, it was really hard, those kids were having to come back to school from being home for two years..”

Many come to school with heavy burdens from home and struggle to transition to learning, she said.

“This is what we do in the mornings: We’ll come in and we have a mindful moment,” she said. “It’s a moment when you can meditate, think about what your day is going to be like. And then we ask them, how are you feeling today? Does anybody want to share? And some people, they share some deep stuff, and we just listen and nobody makes fun of anybody, nobody judges. And so that gives them a way to air it out.”

Teacher and License Mismatch

More Ohio educators also are teaching courses that do not match their licensing, which could indicate schools and districts are moving teachers around to fill gaps created by vacancies.

In the 2021-2022 school year, the number of courses taught by a teacher without the proper license was at the highest level in the past five years, the report stated: 20,776 courses in 2022, compared to 2018′s 19,157 courses.

In some cases, this may be against the law. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires schools to ensure that all teachers in low-income, Title 1 programs meet state certification and licensure requirements.

But during the pandemic, the Ohio General Assembly and Department of Education allowed flexible staffing policies. Today, they are no longer in place, according to the report.

The most common middle and high school courses taught by teachers without the proper licenses in the 2021-22 school year statewide were:

  1. Integrated English Language Arts, grades 7-8; 357 courses taught by 165 teachers without the proper licenses.
  2. Math, grades 7-8; 327 courses taught by 153 teachers without the proper licenses.
  3. Science, grades 7-8; 321 courses taught by 127 teachers without the proper licenses.
  4. Social Studies, grades 7-8, 262 courses taught by 124 teachers without the proper licenses.
  5. High school physical sciences, 245 courses taught by 121 teachers without the proper licenses.

Hershman-Rossi, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School music teacher, said that means children aren’t being taught by people with the proper expertise. But it also impacts teachers, who are forced to teach in areas that are not their interest or passion.

“You see people who get moved like that, and after a year they say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and they leave or retire,” he said.

Fewer Students Studying Education in College

Enrollment in Ohio’s teacher preparation programs dropped 19 percent in five years, from 14,829 in 2015 to 12,412 in 2020. Similarly, the number of students completing a education program decreased 26 percent from 5,753 to 4,570, according to the Ohio Department of Education report.

The number of newly credentialed teachers has steadily declined since 2014, the report found.

This trend is alarming, according to a recent Ohio Education Association report on teaching recruitment and retention. Educators who helped assemble the report said that “their colleagues are less likely to encourage their own children to choose careers in education than in the past.”

“Ohio’s growing teacher recruitment and retention crisis is one of the largest issues of our time,” OEA President Scott DiMauro. “When excellent educators are feeling that they have no choice but to leave the profession or young people are left feeling that teaching is not a sustainable career option... Ohio students lose out on crucial opportunities and supports. Ohio’s students can no longer wait for meaningful solutions to this problem.”

Shortage in Other Staff

There may have been a dearth in substitute teachers due to teacher illness and quarantining during the pandemic.

However, the supply of substitute teachers was at an all-time high in 2021, at 36,600. In 2022, it was 35,700.

This has to do with flexibilities the legislature provided, including a bill not requiring bachelor’s degrees to substitute teach. That exemption expires after the 2023-2024 school year. The Department of Education awarded 5,238 people temporary, non-bachelor’s substitute teaching licenses in 2021-2022.

People with regular teaching licenses and administrative licenses can also substitute.

The number of bus drivers is also down. Last school year, there were only 18,000 drivers, compared to 26,000 in 2018, said state Sen. Andrew Brenner, a Columbus lawmaker who is working on a solution. There are about 54,000 Ohioans with an endorsement on their commercial driver’s license to drive school buses, he said.

“That indicates people are going for higher pay, maybe an Amazon or UPS,” he said.

Possible Solutions

A handful of bills in the General Assembly could ease the teacher shortage.

The most-talked about effort that could attract and retain teachers came in the House’s version of the state’s two-year budget bill. Teachers with no experience would have to be paid at least $34,600 a year, up from the minimum of $25,950 right now. The minimum pay for teachers with a master’s degree and 11 years of experience would shoot up to $64,920 a year, from the current $48,690.

The budget bill is currently in the Senate.

“We haven’t decided as to what to do with that item,” said Brenner, the Columbus-area senator, who chairs the Senate’s Primary and Secondary Education Committee.

Other bills include:

-House Bill 9, sponsored by state Reps. Gayle Manning, a North Ridgeville Republican, and Mary Lightbody, a Columbus-area Democrat. It would provide four-year scholarships of up to $7,500 a year for qualifying high school seniors and others pursuing careers in education and create a loan forgiveness program for teachers who provide STEM instruction in grades 7-12 for five consecutive years at public schools with consistently low performance.

-Senate Bill 14, sponsored by state Sen. Frank Hoagland, a Mingo Junction Republican. It would allow any veteran who was honorably discharged, lacks a criminal record and has completed 60 college credits with an at least 2.5 grade-point average to teach, even if they lack prior teaching experience and a bachelor’s degree. The veteran would participate in a two-year mentorship with a licensed teacher and would have to complete 15 hours of professional development every five years. The bill is being vetted in a committee.

-Senate Bill 27, would enter Ohio into the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact, which would create license reciprocity among participant states. Currently Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky are members. This bill is awaiting hearings in a Senate committee.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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