LITTLE ROCK – The state Education Department has partnered with a non-profit organization called Forward Arkansas to address a growing teacher shortage in Arkansas.
They have launched a new website – TeachArkansas.org – to recruit new teachers. It also helps current teachers improve their skills by getting certified in new fields, which allows them to advance professionally and earn more in salary.
The website emphasizes pathways to getting a certificate that will not burden the teacher with debt. Also, it outlines virtual courses for students who may not be able to attend in person.
The campaign outlines how school staff can take advantage of debt-free tuition to become teachers. This opportunity benefits long-term substitutes, classroom aides and para-professionals.
Statewide surveys indicate that four percent of teachers are uncertified and another three percent are not certified in the subject they teach.
According to the research, a school district with a shortage of certified teachers doesn’t sit unsupervised students in an empty room. However, those students may be in a classroom that is filled to the brim because two classes have been combined under the one teacher who is certified.
It may mean that they have class with a teacher who is not certified in the subject area. It may mean that certain advanced and specialized courses are not available.
The lack of certified teachers is more severe in some areas of southern and eastern Arkansas, where districts reported that up to a third of teachers are not certified in the subject they are expected to teacher.
African-American students are more likely to attend classes taught by a teacher who is not certified in the subject.
Salary disparities are one cause of teacher shortages in some areas of Arkansas. The average starting salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree can vary by as much as $15,000 a year, depending on where in Arkansas the teacher is hired.
The state offers alternatives certification programs for people who want a teaching certificate, but a college degree is necessary. Some communities have fewer adults with the academic credentials required for alternative certification. Those areas tend to experience more severe teacher shortages.
The non-profit organization interviewed paraprofessionals and in some districts, up to 40 percent said that they did not have enough time or money to complete the process of getting a certificate.
The researchers also found that many potential teachers did not know about the opportunities available through the state Education Department. Many assumed, incorrectly, that they would not qualify for financial help.
The partnership between Forward Arkansas and the Education Department is working to recruit more teachers through four basic pathways. One is for high school students, and it guides them through higher education programs that won’t amass a lot of student debt. Another is for college students at two-year colleges and four-year universities, and it also guides students along a debt-free path toward certification.
A third path is for professionals who want to change careers. They have academic credentials but not a teaching certificate. The fourth is for school staff who are not certified, and who want to teach and increase their pay at the same time.