By Linda Borg
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island College has come up with a fresh way to address the state’s chronic teacher shortages in special education, math and science.
Starting this fall, students who study elementary education at RIC will also be trained to teach one of the following subjects: special education, middle school math or middle school science.
“We’re trying to address the shortages in Rhode Island with our redesign,” said Gerri August, interim co-dean of RIC’s Feinstein School of Education. “Our elementary education students will be certified to teach special education or middle school math or middle school science.”
Like most states, Rhode Island doesn’t have a generic teacher shortage. It has a shortage in certain subjects, including special education, math, science and English as a Second Language.
A new study by Bellwether Education Partners concludes that there is no overall shortage of teachers. Rather, districts face a “chronic and perpetual misalignment [between] teacher supply and demand,” according to “Nuance in the Noise.” Bellwether is a national nonprofit organization that advocates for under-served students.
“States consistently report trouble staffing special education, math, science, foreign language and English as a Second Language classrooms,” the study said. “Yet, states’ experiences with shortages vary widely.”
Rhode Island has struggled to fill 18 shortage areas, from nurses to social science teachers, since 1998, which underscores the challenge in finding certified teachers. The study also calls for schools of education to encourage aspiring teachers to major in hard-to-fill subjects rather than the always popular elementary education.
When districts can’t fill an opening with a teacher certified in the subject, school districts are forced to hire teachers under an “emergency certification.” A district might hire a mid-career professional with a chemistry degree who doesn’t have a teaching certification, or they might place a general science teacher in a chemistry class.