Increasing pressures on educators and negative talk about public schools are among factors being cited for an enrollment decline in teacher education programs at Illinois State University and across the state.
Although it’s not seen as an immediate problem, educators and administrators are concerned about the long-term impact if the trend continues.
In the summer/fall of 2008, ISU’s College of Education had 681 new teacher education students. In summer/fall 2012, the number was 594, a decline of just under 13 percent. Elementary education took the biggest hit, with a decline of more than 20 percent in the same period — from 324 new elementary ed majors to 258. By comparison, new special education majors declined less than 10 percent, from 249 to 226.
There also are teacher education students in other divisions at ISU, such as the College of Science and Technology and the College of Arts and Sciences, but in much smaller numbers.
The State Board of Education did not have figures for other universities, but Amee Adkins, associate dean for assessment and undergraduate education in ISU’s College of Education, said her peers at other schools are seeing similar declines.
“When we first started noticing it a couple of years ago, it coincided with changes in entry requirements” making it tougher to get into teacher education programs, said Adkins.
As the decline persisted, college administrators looked to other causes, she said.
Those include the pressures caused by such things as high stakes testing, the value society places on education, pension disputes and the economy in general, Adkins said. Job prospects are another part of the reason young people are choosing other professions, said Sandy Wilson, Unit 5’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
“I think widespread news of school budget issues throughout Illinois may cause some students to think about their future job prospects and if they are not positively sure teaching is the absolute career for them, they may choose a different route,” she said.
With the lack of reliable funding from the state, local school districts either aren’t filling positions when teachers retire, or they are laying off teachers as they try to balance local school district budgets, said Olympia school district Superintendent Brad Hutchison.
When young people are sitting at the dining room table talking to their parents about career paths, teaching may not be considered because of lagging job opportunities. “I feel we are losing some viable candidates,” Hutchison said.
Added Bloomington District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly, “Because there’s been such a sledgehammer to the teaching profession, there are people in this profession who tell others not to get in because it’s too hard and because of how we treat them as a society.”
“We need to talk about the rewards and not the problems,” she said. “There are these great rewards: human interaction; influencing the direction of young people; and helping them reach their goals.”
The negative talk has not discouraged high school senior Kirsten Norsworthy of Heyworth from pursuing her career goal.
When her school, Calvary Christian Academy, gave students a chance to explore careers for an internship week, the 17-year-old grabbed a chance to assist staff at Sheridan Elementary School in Bloomington.
Her week of job shadowing only confirmed her desire to teach. She plans to attend Greenville College in southern Illinois this fall.
Wilson and others said the interest level in different careers is cyclical, which could explain the dip in interest to teach, and speculated that enrollment in teacher education may increase in the future.
And, Adkins said ISU’s College of Education is not overly concerned about the decrease in elementary education majors because that area is turning out more graduates than needed for the number of openings. Higher demand teaching fields such as math education and special education are not seeing major declines, she said.
“We still draw a very talented group of students to ISU,” she said.
Reilly and Hutchison agreed there is still strong respect and support for education in the Bloomington-Normal area.
“Fortunately, I’m in a community where education is valued,” Reilly said. “And they have high expectations.”