JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — There are more than 3,000 inappropriately certified teachers in classrooms across Missouri, and the state’s education department says it all goes back to the teacher shortage crisis. 

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said inappropriately certified means an educator that is teaching in a content area that he or she doesn’t have the appropriate certificate for. The assistant commissioner for the Officer of Educator Quality under DESE, Paul Katnik, shared his thoughts on whether parents should be concerned.

“No teacher in a classroom is going in with nothing and just making it up all day,” Katnik said. “There’s all kind of support around them, the teacher they teach with, the administrators in the building, and there are lesson plans that are made for them.”

It’s been an ongoing struggle for years now in the education system, a lack of teachers. Katnik said DESE was watching the number of educators fall before COVID-19, but the pandemic expedited the problem. 

“Despite our early efforts, we weren’t turning numbers around and we haven’t turned them around yet,” Katnik said. “Now, when virtually every school district in the state is struggling with staffing issues, it’s not a surprise.”

According to the Teacher Workforce Report Katnik provided to the State Board of Education earlier this month, the content areas with the highest number of inappropriately certified teachers are in elementary education, followed by special education. 

  • Elementary Education 1-6: 523 full time unqualified 
  • Mild/Moderate Cross Categorical K-12: 409 
  • Early Childhood Special Education B-3: 391
  • Early Childhood Education B-3: 372
  • Social Science 5-9: 281
  • Physics 9-12: 281
  • Mathematics 5-9: 234
  • Severely Developmentally Disabled B-12: 204
  • Biology 9-12: 199
  • General Sciences 5-9: 191

“There are people who are on provisional certificates because that means they are working on a program, they get extra coaching, extra support, while they are finishing that program,” Katnik said. “There’s some kind of supervision by folks who are certified and tha’ts always in palce for anybody that’s in a classroom with students.”

He said those under-certified can also be substitute teachers. Overall, of the 70,000 teachers in the state, less than 5% are inappropriately certified. 

But for the first time in years, Katnik also shared some good news with the board. 

“I’ve been doing the report for five years and I have yet to use the word “optimism” in any of those reports over the last four to five years, but this year, I was able to because have seen a slight increase in enrollment in our teacher preparation programs,” Katnik said. 

He said this means there are people who have been accepted into a college of education and have started in their preparation process. Compared to five years ago, there’s been a 25% increase in teacher preparation programs, but it will be a while before supply is adequate to meet demand. 

“Typically, we will see after there is an increase in enrollment, a couple years later we would anticipate seeing an increase in completers which then would lead to an increase in certificates then they are actually out in the workforce helping fill our classrooms,” Katnik said. 

In the governor’s budget request, he wants lawmakers to fund the Career Ladder Program, a way to give experienced teachers a raise who help with extracurricular activities. Parson also wants to see the General Assembly fund the Teacher Baseline Salary Grant Program, increasing starting pay to $38,000. 

Last year, the General Assembly funded the Teacher Salary Grant Program for the first time. More than 356 school districts, about 70%, across the district have opted into the program this year. Under the program, the state pays for 70%, while the rest is on the district. 

Many school districts across the state are also pivoting to four-day weeks due to the shortage of teachers. The shortened week is being used as a carrot to potential candidates. This year, more than 140 school districts are utilizing a shortened week, most in rural areas, an increase of more than 100 schools in just four years.

Four-day weeks currently affect less than 10 percent of the state’s students.

The Independence School District just outside of Kansas City voted last month to implement a four-day week starting next year. With nearly 14,000 students, it’s the largest district so far to make the switch.

Back in October, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Blue Ribbon Commission released its report to the State Board of Education.

These recommendations come after months of researching what can be done to combat the teacher shortage:

Immediate priorities: 

  • Increasing starting teacher pay to $38,000 and have an annual review from the Joint Committee on Education to ensure teacher salaries remain competitive 
  • Fund the Career Ladder Program which rewards teachers for extracurricular activities
  • Establish sustainable funding for Grow Your Own programs, geared towards paraprofessionals, adults or high school students who want to become a teacher
  • Encourage districts to implement team-based teaching models 

Short-term priorities: 

  • Establish a fund to help local school districts pay for the increased minimum starting salary and to increase teacher pay overall
  • Increase support for educator mental health
  • Fully fund the scholarship program that offers tuition assistance to incoming teachers or to educators continuing their education 

Long-term priorities:

  • Offer salary supplements for filling high-need positions
  • Fund salary supplements for teachers with National Board Certification 

The commission also recommends that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) expand the annual teacher recruitment and retention report to include salary data for each local school district, teacher turnover broken down by student achievement and by race, a comparison of Missouri’s starting and average salaries with surrounding states, and openings that have been posted over the past year and the number of applications each opening received. 

Back in June, the State Board of Education voted to expand testing scores in hopes of getting more teachers certified. By tweaking the state’s qualifying score, more than 500 teachers could be added to the workforce. 

According to DESE, roughly 550 teachers miss the qualifying score on the certification exam anywhere between one to four questions. Those candidates have already completed their accredited program but didn’t score high enough on the exam.

Back in April, the board approved to expand the test scores for elementary certification exams by a -2 standard error of measurement (SEM) after a new assessment was implemented in August and enough educators weren’t scoring high enough.

In June, the board agreed to change the qualifying score to -1 SEM starting immediately. This means someone that missing a handful of questions would be certified.