Mississippi task force to study teacher shortage

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A new task force has been formed to deal with an ongoing major stumbling block to educational improvement in Mississippi – the shortage of qualified teachers.
The Task Force to Study Strategies for Solving the Current Teacher Shortage was created by the 2010 Legislature, with a goal of making a report to the 2011 Legislature and to Gov. Haley Barbour.
State leaders have been dealing with the issue for decades.
In 1998, the Legislature passed the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act that includes scholarships, housing assistance and moving assistance for instructors who commit to work in geographic and subject areas deemed as having a teacher shortage.
The latest task force will make recommendations in a number of areas, such as teacher salaries, working conditions and adequate and equitable resources for educators.
This past school year the state Department Education awarded 2,800 “emergency certifications” to allow people lacking required credentials to teach in Mississippi schools.
That number is expected to be substantially down this coming school year for several reasons, including the elimination of teaching positions because of budget cuts.
Still, Mississippi’s public and private universities graduate about 1,400 teachers per year, according to information provided at the first meeting of the task force this week.
Half not teaching
About half of those graduates never go into teaching. And of those who do teach, about half quit after the first five years.
“We have a problem. We must solve it,” said House Education Chair Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who also will chair the task force. “We must do a better job of solving the problem.”
Without high-quality teachers, the task force said, needed improvements in the state’s schools will be stalled.
Brown introduced the legislation to create the task force at the behest of the Mississippi Association of Educators.
Franks Yates, executive director of the MAE, said the current task force differs from the previous efforts because it includes classroom teachers.
The 16-person task force has three teachers – from the elementary, middle school and high school levels – as well as a teacher assistant, a principal, superintendent, university education school deans and other education leaders.
It also includes Republican Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo and Democratic House Universities and Colleges Chair Kelvin Buck of Holly Springs.
The task force was told by Daphne Buckley, a deputy state superintendent, of various programs in place to try to combat the teacher shortage.
Among the programs are an alternative route to teacher certification for those who did not major in education and the “troops to teacher program” in which retired military members become teachers.
There are also the Teach for America and Mississippi Teacher Corps programs that recruit top college graduates into the teaching field in poor areas of the state.
“We’re doing a great job,” Brown said. “It is just not enough.”
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.