Education Systems Center Launches Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois (SEPI) to Support Teacher Career Pathways

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Illinois, like many other states, faces teacher shortages in key subjects, including special education, English Language Learners (ELL), and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The shortages are particularly acute in rural and urban classrooms. Further, the state’s teaching ranks also lack needed diversity, as the teacher workforce is 85 percent white, even as mounting research shows students of color benefit from having teachers of color.

To help address these challenges, the Illinois P-20 Council, The Joyce Foundation, and Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University have partnered to launch Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois (SEPI). The initiative, which kicked off on May 2, will fund eight communities to build streamlined teacher career pathways that begin in high school, stretch into postsecondary, and allow students to get on a strong path to a teaching license. It will have a special focus on helping students from diverse backgrounds become educators.

The initiative aims to prepare today’s high school students to become tomorrow’s teachers. SEPI aligns with the state’s Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act of 2016, which allows districts to add College and Career Pathway Endorsements to students’ high school diplomas.  An endorsement reflects that a student has completed an individualized learning plan, engaged in a career-focused instructional sequence, participated in work-based learning, and demonstrated readiness for college-level reading and math.

The districts involved in the SEPI effort will provide an Education and Training endorsement to students representing 21 school districts, 36 high schools, and 15 colleges or universities across the state. About 450 students are expected to participate in the first cohort graduating in the class of 2021.

Illinois already is a leader in the high school pathways movement, which aims to get high school students ready for success in college and careers. Dozens of communities across the state are engaged in the Illinois 60 by 25 Network, committed to ensuring that 60% of adults have a high-quality college degree or postsecondary credential by 2025. SEPI supports this goal as well.

“We are proud to be supporting this work and look forward to its growth,” said Jesse Ruiz, Deputy Governor and Chair of the Illinois P-20 Council. He said the Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois initiative advances two goals of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s administration. “This initiative will help address the teacher shortage in our state in a diverse and strategic manner, and help our students better prepare for college and career while completing high school.”

The new initiative builds off  Teach Illinois: Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms, a policy roadmap created by the Illinois State Board of Education and funded by The Joyce Foundation, which aims to address teacher shortages and elevate and modernize the profession. Among other things, the roadmap called for school districts and postsecondary institutions to work together to create high-quality pathways into the teaching profession. The SEPI initiative aims to do just that.

“Research clearly shows that having a top-notch teacher is a key driver of student success,” said Stephanie Banchero, Education Program Director at the Joyce Foundation. “It’s important that young people see a future in teaching and particularly that young people of color see themselves reflected in the teaching ranks. This new initiative will help ensure that we have great educators in the classrooms that need them the most and that those educators reflect the diversity of those classrooms.”

SEPI is modeled on educator pathway efforts already underway in Illinois, including the Educator Prep program in Township High School District 214. That program lets high school students earn college credits in high school, student teach, and potentially work in northwest suburban schools after college graduation. It is an exemplary model of how a district and higher education partners – National Louis University and Northeastern Illinois University – can work together to build a robust path to get young people into the teaching profession.

“Four years ago, we created a teacher preparation program to ensure our students become highly-qualified teachers who look like and are tied to our communities, and I am so proud of its success,” said District 214 Superintendent Dr. David R. Schuler. “Our goal was, and still is, to eliminate barriers of access and affordability, and ensure our students have opportunities through partnerships. We are excited to see other school districts embrace this model so we can collectively elevate the teaching profession and train the next generation of educators.”

Below is a list of the collaborations that will be funded.

  • Springfield District 186
  • District 214
  • Rock and Mississippi Valley Collaborative / Regional Office of Education 47
  • Southern Illinois Collaborative / Regional Office of Education 30
  • Plainfield District 202
  • Quincy Rural Collaborative / Regional Office of Education 1
  • College of DuPage / Indian Prairie HSD 204
  • Fayette and Marion County Collaborative

A number of additional districts will participate in the SEPI project’s Community of Practice in order to launch teaching pathways in future years.

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