Teacher supply shrinking as attrition rises,
private sector calls, and enrollment grows

December 14, 2000

(217) 782-4648


Chicago – For the most part, Illinois’ supply of qualified teachers is meeting demand – for now. 

But as enrollments grow, experienced teachers and administrators leave the profession and current and prospective teachers seek higher pay outside the field, the supply will not keep pace with the demand, according to the State Board of Education’s annual report to the General Assembly on teacher supply and demand. The State Board will forward the report next month to legislators. 

“This report is like Sunday night’s weather forecast. We have preliminary indicators of what could become a crisis,” said State Superintendent of Education Glenn W. McGee. 

“Various factors affecting the supply of educators could bury some districts in the next few years. It is difficult if not impossible for learning to flourish without caring, qualified, competent teachers,” McGee said. 

“This report clearly shows the need for better pay for teachers and for aggressive leadership in recruiting and retaining qualified educators,” he said. Local districts or the state may need to consider incentives to attract and keep more teachers, McGee said. 

Most local school districts are not yet having serious trouble filling most of their teaching positions. 

Over the past four years, Illinois has certified about 13,000 new prospective teachers annually. Newly certified personnel are the second largest source of educator supply, so it would seem that the state has a decent pool of teachers to meet demand. 

But, only one of every two teachers certified (6,655 in 2000) is actually employed as a teacher.

That fact may indicate stiffer competition for teachers from private schools, other states or the private sector.  What’s more, the better the economy the less likely it is that public education will be able to compete to attract and retain teachers. 

As of September 2000, Illinois school districts had 2,637 unfilled positions, nearly double the number of unfilled positions five years ago (many of them in “specialty” and “higher level” teaching positions including library/media, guidance counselors, special education, mathematics, music, physical education, science, English as a second language, bilingual and fine arts, among others. 

In 1996 there were 1,387 unfilled full-time equivalent teaching positions. This year’s figure is a 90 percent increase over four years ago. Half of the unfilled jobs (1,308) were in Chicago District 299. As well, 17 elementary and 14 secondary schools were without principals. 

Several factors complicate the problem even more.  First, the number of educators approaching retirement is also increasing. Right now, 17 percent of the educator workforce is eligible to retire (that is, 55 years old with at least 20 years of experience.) That includes 15 percent of teachers, 24 percent of administrators and 27 percent of other certified staff. 

Those numbers will increase significantly in the next three years, when 40 percent of teachers and 47 percent of administrators will join the ranks of prospective retirees. 

Second, student enrollment continues to grow. Total Illinois public school enrollments have been rising by about 1 percent annually since 1990 and are expected to continue upward through 2004. 

Secondary enrollment is expected to grow by 7 percent by 2004 (up by 87,256 students.) Elementary enrollment is projected to increase by 2 percent through the same time (up by 27,589 students.) As enrollments grow, so will the demand for teachers. From 1999 to 2000 demand for teachers increased 11 percent, and the demand for administrators grew by 3 percent. 

Third, the teacher attrition rate is also increasing. In the 1999-2000 school year, the rate of attrition (including retirement and other factors causing educators to leave the profession) among teachers was 6.5 percent – a 40 percent increase and the highest rate since 1996 when teacher attrition rates measured 4.6 percent. That figure came one year after an early retirement program artificially spiked the teacher attrition rate to about 9 percent. 

Administrator attrition rates are even higher. As with teachers, the administrator attrition rate peaked in 1995 at about 13 percent. Since then the rate has ranged from a low of 3.4 percent in 1997 to the current high rate of 5.3 percent in 2000, an increase of 56 percent. And 80 percent of all administrators are at least 50 years old. 

Perhaps of greatest concern is the number of new teachers who leave the profession within the first five years. Between 1999 and 2000, about 11 percent of novice teachers left the profession after their first year.  

The State Board plans to seek legislative support for a proposed a statewide induction and mentoring system that would provide support to new teachers through their first three years.

Local school districts are expected to see high demand for teachers of reading improvement, bilingual education, cross-categorical special education and computer education/technology. 

Another significant concern is the actual makeup of the teaching profession. Over 75 percent of all Illinois teachers were female while nearly 88 percent of the superintendents and 53 percent of principals were male. 

Minority teachers accounted for only 15 percent of the teaching force compared to a minority student population of 39 percent. Minorities comprised only 19 percent of principals and 3 percent of superintendents. 

This area is of particular importance, McGee said, as the State Board begins to address the “achievement gap” between white and minority students. “We must do a better job of providing positive role models in our classrooms for all of our students,” he said.

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