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Idaho districts say they hired underqualified staff in face of teacher shortage. Now what?

Oct. 21, 2022 Updated Fri., Oct. 21, 2022 at 8:53 p.m.

By Becca Savransky Idaho Statesman

BOISE – The number of open teacher positions in schools across Idaho dropped significantly when compared with the end of last school year, but some districts have had to resort to alternative methods to get their schools fully staffed.

School districts reported desperately hiring underqualified staffers for positions that were difficult to fill – including those in special education and math – through alternative certifications or emergency provisional certificates. Emergency provisional certificates allow districts that must fill positions to receive a one-year certification for a person who doesn’t have the requirements needed.

The Idaho Association of School Administrators sent out a survey in September and found the state had 134 vacant certified staff positions among the 87 school districts responding. When the association conducted a similar survey in May, 89 school districts reported more than 700 vacancies. That was in part due to more than 450 retirements.

The State Board of Education discussed the survey in a meeting Thursday. Comments from the districts that filled out the survey, which were included in board documents, said many of the recently hired educators had little to no teaching experience.

“I have always wanted to be a doctor, but does that mean I should be placed in an operating room with no training?” one district said in a comment. The documents didn’t identify the districts. “Why is it okay to do this to our children?”

Emergency certificate requests rising

According to board documents, the number of emergency provisional certificate requests made to the board have gone up significantly compared to the same time in previous years.

As of October, the State Board of Education received 78 requests, compared with 21 requests at the same time last year. In the previous years, the board received only a handful of requests within the first few months of school. The State Board of Education received 120 total requests for the last school year by June , compared with 87 in the previous year.

Some districts have resorted to using long-term substitutes, combining classes, reassigning staff members or eliminating electives.

“While all of those are stopgap measures, I think as a board, it should heighten our concern about the quality of education that is going to be able to go on in those classrooms,” Board Vice President Linda Clark said during the board meeting.

One survey response said some of the district’s new hires didn’t know what state standards were and had no concept of lesson plans for their classes. One teacher quit during the third week of school, the response said.

Another district said it convinced parents to step in.

One district said officials hired a special education teacher out of desperation who was “absolutely terrible,” but they needed someone to fill that role.

Many districts said even if they had filled their teaching positions, they were struggling to find people to fill classified staff positions, which include paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

One district said it had been running its schools with one custodian and half the number of bus drivers it needed.

Classified staff members support teachers, so without those positions filled, it makes it even more difficult for teachers, one comment said.

Clark said the shortage isn’t just an issue in Idaho, but a nationwide problem.

“It’s a very bleak time,” she said during the meeting. “But it’s incumbent on us to figure out all the ways that we can provide support for these folks who have been willing to fill these positions.”

Sherri Ybarra, superintendent of public instruction, raised concerns about the impact of teachers with little training in the classroom. She said in the coming years, the state could see dips in students’ academic performance not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of teachers who aren’t trained to intervene when students are struggling in reading or math.

Educators knew this was coming, she said, but now they are in a crisis situation.

“I want to make sure that we think about the long-term effects,” she said, “from having folks in the classroom that aren’t trained to intervene with students who are already coming in behind in academics, and they’re just trying to learn to manage a classroom.”

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