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Education

'Predictor' Promises To Help Missouri Fill Teacher Gaps

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State education officials in Missouri hope a newly designed statistical model will identify down to to the district level what content areas and geographic regions in the state are facing drastic teacher shortages. 

"The better your data, the better you can address issues and solve problems. The better you can make things happen. The more we know what our specific problems are, the more we can attack them," Katnik says. 

To create what they call the Shortage Predictor Model, state officials combined data on teacher qualifications with surveys of educators' perceptions of teacher shortages in their district or region. This then produced a "forecast" of teacher shortages for different geographical regions and certification areas in the state.

As an example in the state equity plan, officials detailed one content area: high school science. In the Shortage Predictor Model, the shortage of teachers went sharply down for schools in northeast Missouri, declined steadily in St. Louis City, but remained distressingly high for schools in southwest Missouri. 

With the Predictor Model's results, DESE officials can now ask themselves, "What we can do to turn that around for those schools and those regions?" Or so says Paul Katnik, the Assistant Commissioner with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). 

The idea of tracking teacher shortages is not new. Year after year, for more than a decade, DESE has released a list of subject areas that have critical shortages of qualified teachers. 

The areas that routinely make the list — meaning the state needs more qualified teachers to teach these subjects — are not surprising: foreign language, physics, speech/language, mathematics. 

Katnik says, though, this is not really that helpful.  

"To claim a certification area (subject) has a statewide shortage is pretty vague. The truth is, there are districts in our state that don't really have problems filling teacher spots. And then there are districts that have trouble all the time," says Katnik. 

What is different about Missouri's approach now is the statistical precision of the Shortage Predictor Model's results. 

"A couple of other states have tried or begun to do some kind of process like this, but it's not something we've seen a lot," Katnik says. 

This attempt at a more rigorous analysis of teacher shortages in Missouri is gaining attention beyond the Show-Me State. The U.S. Department of Education, in approving the state's educator equity plan this month, highlighted Missouri's and Arkansas' Shortage Predictor Models as practices other states should be looking towards. 

The Predictor Model, federal officials said in a press release, will help "recruit, train, and support excellent teachers in all schools." 

Indeed, that is the hope, Katnik says. How this more detailed information on teacher shortages may help in the future, he says, is it may prompt education schools or teacher-training programs to begin specializing in certain content areas based on the shortages of the schools geographically near them. 

Or, he says, if other training programs get good at preparing teachers for certain subjects or content areas, then they could become regional hubs for many local schools or districts. 

In addition, he says, the detailed data the Predictor Model gives the state will help the state "entice high schools students to come into education and be very specific about what the state really needs instead of it being haphazard." 

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