By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, believes having more people know about the state’s alternative route to teacher certification could help alleviate Mississippi’s teacher shortage problem.
Tollison said he believes publicity would help attract people to the state’s Master of Arts in Teaching program and the Teach Mississippi Institute program. Through either program, a college graduate who is able to pass the state’s teacher licensure exam can take two classes under one program or an eight-week online course, plus a year’s internship, and become a teacher.
Tollison said it might help if the Department of Education had people who worked on university campuses to publicize the alternative route programs.
The effort is needed because of a shortage of qualified teachers, according to information compiled by a task force formed by the Mississippi Legislature to look at the issue.
“We have a teacher shortage in certain subject areas and geographic regions,” said Daphne Buckley, a deputy state superintendent of education.
According to information presented by Cerissa Neal, bureau director of Educator Licensure at the Department of Education, there were 1,012 interim certifications granted for the 2012-13 school year, meaning certifications in subject areas where the instructor was not certified.
A high number of shortages – 400 – existed in special education areas. A significant shortage also existed in core academic subject areas – 35 in biology, 37 in math and 27 in English.
Neal pointed out that students must pass subject area tests in those core areas to graduate – meaning a certified teacher is crucial for the success of the students and the accreditation of the school.
In 2011-12 1,448 people obtained educator licenses. The vast majority of those receiving licenses did so through traditional four-year teacher education programs, but a significant number did so through the two alternative route programs.
New teachers are needed to offset retirements and to offset the low retention rate of new teachers in Mississippi. Mississippi’s retention rate of new teachers is below the national average, the task force was told. The reasons cited for the low retention rate included lack of support and low pay.
The task force also heard information detailing that a significant number of students – 65 percent in 2012-13 – who go through Mississippi teaching schools take jobs in other states where the pay and benefits are better.
And the ones who take jobs in Mississippi are not necessarily filling the most-needed teaching slots. For instance, in 2012-13, some 68 teachers were certified in biology, leaving a shortage of 35 statewide. In physics, only one was certified and only 11 were certified in foreign language.
The other issue, according to Neal, is attracting teachers to certain geographic regions that are rural and poor. Tollison said the Legislature must continue to better refine the state’s scholarship programs to attract students willing to teach in those regions and in certain subject areas.
Gov. Phil Bryant has included money in his budget proposal to help fund programs to attract top-performing students to the teaching profession and to help fund programs to attract top college graduates to shortage areas to teach after going through an intensive training program.