SALT LAKE CITY — In the midst of an intensifying teacher shortage, Utah lawmakers and education leaders are looking for ways to improve collaboration between K-12 and higher education when it comes to preparing new teachers.
Part of it means giving prospective educators a path to licensure that's friendly to unique circumstances, such as a career changes, school needs and other factors. But it also means strengthening traditional routes that involve educator training in college and licensure after graduation.
"We really don't want to tweak a system. We want to make some real differences," Diana Suddreth, director of teaching and learning for the Utah State Board of Education, said at the Utah Legislature's Education Interim Committee meeting on Tuesday.
In that process, Suddreth and other education leaders plan to use research and results shared through the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation, a collaboration of states that aims to elevate the abilities of new teachers upon entering the profession. The network is sponsored through the Council of Chief State School Officers, a national education advocacy nonprofit.
How it applies to Utah includes better clinical experiences for teacher training programs, a more streamlined but rigorous licensure process, and relying on the expertise of veteran teachers to help new educators. It's especially needed in places such as Granger Elementary, which is bringing in 15 first-time teachers this fall.
"(Utah has) huge numbers of inexperienced teachers, huge numbers," Suddreth said. "And those teachers need help."
Legislative emphasis on teachers is growing as Utah continues to see high turnover at the front of its classrooms. In 2010, some 2,400 new educators entered the classroom. Now, more than 1,000 of them have quit, with just 58 percent of the group still in the classroom, according to the Utah State Board of Education.
At the same time, the number of students working toward a college degree with the intent of becoming a teacher is also declining.
Teacher recruitment and retention is a complex issue, involving a combination of factors such as teacher pay, workload, external perceptions, administrative support and opportunities for coaching.
"This is a topic that all of us have concerns about, making sure that we have teachers both well prepared when they come to the classroom and the support that they need really to (become) an experienced teacher," said Ogden Republican Ann Millner, Senate chairwoman of the Education Interim Committee.
Parker Fawson, dean of the School of Education at Utah Valley University, is a part of the partnership with K-12 leaders through the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation. He said education programs in colleges and universities should rely more on data and feedback from school districts about the skills and knowledge prospective teachers need.
"I think it's very exciting to see a collaborative effort around this critically important area that really is a K-20 conversation," Fawson said. "We talk at our institution about how critical it is for us to engage in this process because we are the recipients of the kind of investment that we place in K-12 schools."
Not all teachers, however, go to college and start a career with the intent of becoming a teacher. For that reason, the State School Board has created a variety of alternative paths to licensure.
Most recently, the board adopted a rule that allows schools to hire individuals with career experience in a particular field but who may not have experience in the classroom. Those individuals must meet certain requirements for full licensure, such as having a bachelor's degree or higher, completing an ethics review and background check, and undergoing three years of supervision from veteran teachers.
Board members see the rule as a way to meet immediate needs when it comes to recruiting teachers. But the measure has been met with resistance from groups such as the Utah Education Association, which worries that the rule neglects the need for knowledge of the Utah Core academic standards and effective pedagogical skills.
The board is scheduled to receive public comment on the new rule on July 26.
Millner said she hopes to bring forward legislative proposals next year that will begin to address teacher recruitment and retention. But the Legislature may be far removed from the most effective solutions, she said.
"I don't think it's the Legislature's responsibility to put in place the process and the procedures. I think that's a state board function," she said. "But we will have to be willing to support that effort with required resources."