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Pace of teacher exodus in Milwaukee area outpaces state, report says

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Public school teachers in the Milwaukee area are leaving the profession at a higher rate than the state as a whole, and Wisconsin’s teacher preparation programs are not enrolling enough candidates to fill their shoes in the classroom, according to a new report released Monday by the nonprofit Public Policy Forum.

“Help Wanted: An Analysis of the Teacher Pipeline in Metro Milwaukee”is the last in a three-part series by the forum that has looked at local workforce trends for teachers and principals.

According to the report, 700 teachers, or nearly 5%, left the profession in the four-county Milwaukee area between 2009 and 2014, nearly half of the 1,478 statewide total, while the student population held relatively steady.

At the same time, it says, enrollments in Wisconsin’s teacher education programs fell nearly 28%, from 12,323 students in 2008-’09 to 8,887 in 2013-’14, the most recent year available. The number of graduates from those programs fell 6.6%.

“The data show that Milwaukee-area districts and districts throughout the state are having trouble retaining current teachers,” said Joe Yeado, senior researcher for the forum and author of the report. “What it says to me is that, moving forward, each teacher vacancy will become harder to fill because the supply of new teachers is shrinking.”

Yeado stressed that it is not a Milwaukee, or Wisconsin, problem. Similar trends are being seen in neighboring states and across the country.

“That suggests that as neighboring states try to fill their teacher vacancies, it’s not beyond the possibility that they would begin to take Wisconsin graduates…which further constricts our supply,” he said.

The report, which will be the subject of a Viewpoint Luncheon on May 4, offers a detailed look at teacher workplace trends: who’s leaving and when; the demographics of those replacing them; and the difficulties that teacher prep programs have in recruiting and retaining students.

Key Findings

Among the findings:

■ Wisconsin saw a spike in departures between the 2010-’11 and 2011-’12 school years. Act 10, the state law restricting bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, took effect in the intervening summer. But the report could not definitively point to the law as the cause.

■ Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest district, lost 9% to 15.4% of its teachers annually over a four-year period. But others, including Waukesha and several in rural communities, saw higher rates.

■ While departing teachers tended to be retirement age, more than a third in the Milwaukee area were in their 20s and 30s. New teachers with less than five years of experience were the second-largest group to leave.

■ More than a fourth of the teaching workforce in metro Milwaukee is over 50, suggesting that departures will increase, and about 62% of the replacement teachers come in with no prior experience.

■ In any given year, about 40% of new teachers are in their 30s and 40s, suggesting that many are coming to the profession as a second career.

■ Among the state’s teacher preparation programs, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh saw the steepest enrollment decline, at 1,526, or 70%, since 2008-’09.

The report suggests several potential reasons for the departures, including pay — from low starting salaries to capped raises — burnout, increasing accountability requirements, promotions and family obligations.

And it offers a number of policy options for retaining teachers and increasing the supply, including loan forgiveness programs for college debt, higher salaries and part-time positions to accommodate teachers who leave for family reasons.

Dan Chanen, chief human capital officer for Milwaukee Public Schools, said his district has developed a number of strategies aimed at boosting its teacher ranks. They include tapping alternative licensing programs through such groups as Teach for America; and two new programs still in the planning stages that would grow their own teachers, targeting students and paraprofessionals.

“We recognize that the pipeline is going to be a challenge. And we’re working hard to help people find their calling when they come to Milwaukee,” he said.

“Help Wanted: An Analysis of the Teacher Pipeline in Metro Milwaukee” is the last in a three-part series by the forum that has looked at local workforce trends for teachers and principals.

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