/Clarksdale feels impact of teacher shortage on student achievement

Clarksdale feels impact of teacher shortage on student achievement

Nonprofit Mississippi News CLARKSDALE – The Board President Patrick Campbell quickly answered the questions at a recent meeting of the Coahoma County Public School Board of Trustees. “Are you looking [for teachers]?” Campbell asked the question, firm in his voice but persistent, “Is anyone applying or not?” Campbell said, “Are they just keeping some people in place?” “Because some folks at Friars Point [Elementary school] have been there and can’t get no certification,” Campbell added. Campbell’s frustration was evident in his questions, which he used to express concern about the teacher shortage and its impact on students. This is a conversation that could take place in any number schools across the state, where teacher shortages are affecting student performance. It leads to further discussion about the actions of teachers and administrators to reduce that impact, as it did at this meeting. This is a serious issue, particularly in this area, where officials are trying to improve their state accountability ratings. LaTasha Turner, principal of Friars Point Elementary, responded to Campbell’s queries by saying that the school had provided training for individuals who didn’t have certification. Superintendent Xandra Brooks Keys said that the district was attending recruitment programs but pointed out that there are no teachers available. Principal of Lyon Elementary, Crystal Hall-Gooden, stated that they are keeping the teachers who are improving students’ performance. She stated that they constantly invest in teachers’ professional development. Campbell said, “I get that. But if they can train them, why cannot they train themselves to take that test?” “How much longer are we going to keep people on the sidelines?” The Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act of 98, HB609 gives full scholarships to students enrolled in full-time or part-time colleges to teach in areas where there is a shortage. Coahoma County is among 48 districts that are in critical teacher shortage areas throughout the state. The district had 117 teachers as of 2017-2018. According to the Mississippi Department of Education data, 22 teachers, or 19%, are not certified. 75 teachers, or 64%, hold traditional licenses. 15, or 13%, have alternate licenses. Lastly, 5, or 4%, have both traditional and alternative licenses. According to Mississippi Today, 17 teachers are currently vacant in the district. Lakeda Harris, the personnel manager, stated that they would love to fill these positions. Adrienne White-Hudson, the founder of RISE, Inc., which is a non-profit organization that works to improve education in high poverty areas, stated that teacher shortages in rural areas have been an ongoing problem. In a telephone interview with Mississippi Today, she stated that not only is it crucial to recruit teachers, but also keeping the teachers you have is equally important. White-Hudson believes that there isn’t enough people, including community members, to call state legislators and talk with the Mississippi Department of Education about advocating for their schools. She stated that people need to fight other than the school system, because they get so involved in not being D or F and putting the advocacy piece to the side. “Everybody knows that there is a shortage of teachers, but not much is being done from a policy perspective to address this problem.” The Critical Teacher Shortage Act requires the Education Department to have three staff members who work in these areas to recruit and implement programs. White-Hudson said that currently, only one person is responsible for the job. She stated that the standard in critical areas of teacher shortage must be reevaluated and the emphasis should be on teacher development and feedback, and not on how candidates do on Praxis (standardized test for teacher certification). This is biased in favor of rural people. She stressed that it was time to make a change in the policy to alter the trajectory of the data. According to the Mississippi Department of Education, Coahoma County School district received a D in state school district assessments this year. This is an improvement on 2016’s F. Individual school grades are Sherard Elementary B, Friars Point Elementary C, Jonestown Elementary D, Lyon Elementary D, and Coahoma County Jr/Sr high, F. Campbell asked questions about the principals of each school at the meeting. They presented their student achievement reports based on the second benchmark assessment. Overall, the results showed that students showed little growth, little or no growth or maintained their current levels in different subject areas. Principals noticed that students’ test scores decreased during the second assessment period. Math was the most affected subject for many schools. Turner said that fourth graders and students in the bottom twenty-five per cent were the most affected by the loss of a Friars Point Elementary math teacher. They were unable to meet their goals. Turner stated that they have hired a qualified math teacher, made students take math earlier in their day, provided more intervention for students who need more help and sought guidance from a consultant to help them reach their goals. Hall-Gooden, Lyon Elementary’s principal, stated that she also saw a decrease in scores among her fourth-grade students. She said that she is now back in school, and she assists teachers with students in the classroom. Hall-Gooden stated that although it is only the third day of doing this, she can see a change in students’ understanding. They are able give feedback and answer questions. I believe we will see some positive benefits from that.” School board members were asked why students weren’t making progress at a faster pace. Principals responded with the same answers: There are not enough certified teachers and not enough support in the classrooms, which leads to excessive class loads. Charlette Harris, Jonestown Elementary principal, stated that there is one math teacher, one ELA teacher and one social studies teacher for fourth through sixth graders. She said, “That’s quite a lot.” It’s difficult, but we couldn’t find someone to replace it and I didn’t want to put a substitute in an environment that’s so delicate. We go in there and put the burden on [teachers], and the load falls on [administrators] too.” Hall-Gooden said that she does not have any long-term subs in her building, and that she has 100 percent certified staff at her school. However, she noted that the class load is too much for teachers. Hall-Gooden suggested that additional support for the classrooms would be beneficial, such as teacher assistants who can assist with interventions. Harris stated that the salary of teacher assistants is $12,500. Hall-Gooden stated that while interventions are done, they could be made smaller to provide more personalized support and help target specific areas. We’re doing it, and we are seeing some growth. But one-on-one is always more beneficial because you can give [students] more care. … We gotta meet our goal. We cannot be another D.” This legislative session, lawmakers filed numerous bills to address teacher shortages as well as licensing. State Rep. Orlando Paden (D-Clarksdale) proposed HB160 to address the teacher shortage. It would allow teachers to be licensed even if they do not meet all state requirements. The bill was not able to move from committee this week, and it died. Paden’s bill was not the only one. There were also several bills that dealt with teacher licensure. These included HB105, which was proposed by Charles Busby (R-Pascagoula). This measure was also rejected by committee. It would have allowed for non-traditional teaching routes licenses if the applicant has an advanced degree and passed Praxis I and II exams. *Editor’s note: The school ratings for Sherard Elementary School, Friars Point Elementary Schools were incorrect at first. This story has been updated with the latest ratings. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.