DIGGING DEEPER: As teacher shortage looms, state officials look - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

DIGGING DEEPER: As teacher shortage looms, state officials look for answers

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Since Act 10 was implemented in 2011, a number of older K-12 teachers have retired.

At the end of the last school year, 28 teachers left the small Dodgeville School District in Iowa  County.

"It was kind of like, surprising to hear the large number," said Autumn Bell, a Dodgeville High junior. "And some of the teachers I didn't really expect to leave."

But across the state, it's becoming the norm.

The reasons for teacher departures are many and varied: pay, working conditions, political rhetoric and retirement.
But the pipeline that once produced a wealth of new teachers is starting to run dry, putting Wisconsin just a few years away from a dire teacher shortage.

"Just as an example, maybe 20 years ago we had between 250 and 275 students applying for our elementary education program," said Jeff Hamm, associate dean of academic services at the UW-Madison School of Education. "Last year we had 105 students apply to that same program."

"It certainly is startling, because that used to be the huge basket that was overflowing and now it's not and, if you're in Winter, Wisconsin, sooner or later you won't be able to find a second grade teacher," said Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Superintendent Tony Evers.

UW-Madison educational leadership and policy analyst Dr. Peter Goff is nearing completion of a research study on Wisconsin's teacher shortage and said the results are not encouraging.

"This whole idea of a teacher shortage, like what is a teacher shortage?," asked Dr. Goff. "There's the quantity aspect, like we're not getting enough candidates. There's also the quality aspect - we're not getting good enough candidates."

In fact, Goff's findings show between 10 and 25 percent of teacher vacancies are now filled with candidates who are not up the standards of the school district officials hiring them.
But DPI is already loosening some licensing standards and Superintendent Evers guarantees others are coming.

"Some of them will be bigger than others, some of them will be more controversial," admits Evers.

One is allowing more people with "life experience" in certain areas to get a fast-tracked teaching license over the course of one year.

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), who chairs the State Assembly Committee on Education, believes there's no other option.

"Four percent of the workforce is teachers, which - just to give you perspective - that's double the number of nurses," said Rep. Thiesfeldt. "Obviously we need to maintain that because the numbers of students in school isn't experiencing a huge decline."

But with those lowered standards come questions from parents about why their kids are getting less qualified teachers, while other students are getting far more qualified teachers.

"Well, we have to make sure that that year program is comparable. I don't want my grand kids going to a school that has teachers that are ill-prepared," said Supt. Evers.

However, Dr. Goff warns the changes could create a large disparity among different school districts.

"The same districts that are taking advantage of these licensure rules are the ones that are cash-strapped," said Dr. Goff. "So, how much support are these folks gonna get in the classroom? Are they going to leave halfway through because they're not supported, creating an even worse problem?"

But state leaders also hope to boost interest in traditional education programs.

Supt. Evers says that has to start with the Republican leaders in the state legislature championing public educators once again.

He feels they've spent the past few years demonizing the profession, causing young people to pursue other professions.

"Frankly, I think toning down the rhetoric, that's free. We could do that without spending a penny," said Supt. Evers.

Rep. Thiesfeldt says it's an issue that will require an entirely new approach.

"The millennial generation is different than we've had previous generations and we need to figure out what it is to appeal to them and adapt to it," said Rep. Thiesfeldt.

A full set of data raising new questions and providing more answers will be available in October, when Dr. Goff expects to release his full report.

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