by Carol Burris
When it Comes to the Teacher Shortage, The New York Times Got it Wrong
New Mexico’s Rio Rancho School District lies just north of Albuquerque. When school opened, the district was still in desperate need of teachers. Students in 33 classrooms were met by a permanent substitute who in some cases had a bachelor’s degree, but no teaching certification of any kind.
Shortly before schools opened in Arizona, at least 1000 teaching positions had yet to be filled. Some positions did not have even one applicant—choosing among the best candidates was not an option.
Nevada does not have enough teachers. If every graduate from Nevada’s teacher preparation programs were hired on the spot, the state still expected to be short. Clarke County alone anticipated having fewer than the whopping 2,600 teachers it needed to open school.
In Oklahoma, the shortage has reached emergency proportions as teachers flee like refugees across state lines to get jobs in better paying states. School officials have traveled to Puerto Rico and Spain to fill slots, especially in bi-lingual education.
The state of California has not been spared. Students in the Bay Area of San Francisco may find their teacher is a central office staffer, as schools scramble to put an adult in the classroom. Although the California shortage is most acute in the northern part of the state, some lawmakers are concerned that it is spreading from north to south.
These are a few of the recent stories that have appeared in local newspapers across the country. There are many more. Too many of our nation’s children do not have the qualified permanent teacher they deserve. There is no indication that the problem will be solved anytime soon, and every indication that it will get worse.
A recent story in The New York Times by Motoko Rich brought national attention to the problem. Rich described the extraordinary efforts districts are taking to put someone in the front of the classroom—ready and credentialed or not. She attributes the shortage to an improving economy—teachers were laid off during the recession and now when new positions are opening, there are job opportunities that are just more attractive to college graduates. There is some truth to the argument she makes.
But the economic upturn is only a part of the story.
Earlier this year, NPR also reported on the national teacher shortage. Correspondent Eric Westervelt’s identification of the cause went beyond the usual suspect—the economy. Noting the dramatic drop in enrollment in teacher education programs (a 74% drop in less than 10 years in California), he astutely attributed at least part of the problem to the way corporate reforms have impacted the profession.
Westervelt reported that the Common Core and its battles; high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.
This comes as no surprise to those inside the profession.
David Gamberg is the superintendent of the Greenport and Southold districts on Long Island’s east end. He has long worried that the politically hostile environment for teachers is contributing to the shortage we are seeing today. “I suspect that a range of issues conspire to exacerbate the problem. Certainly the ongoing, nationwide attack on teachers and unions is near or at the very top of the list of factors driving people away.”
What Gamberg suspects has evidence. There are frequent stories about public school teachers who are leaving the profession or taking early retirement because of the toll of working in a ‘test and punish’ environment. A November NEA survey reported that nearly 50% of all teachers are considering leaving due to standardized testing. Of equal concern is how frequently educators are cautioning young adults about entering the profession.
Renowned author and teacher of literacy, Nancie Attwell, recently won the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation. When she was asked by CNN whether she would advise others to become a public school teacher, her response was she would not. She said she would tell them to find a job in the private sector, or in an independent school instead. She spoke about how constricting both the Common Core and testing have made the profession. “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.” she said.
EdWeek reported on the story, which was followed by a poll. By nearly a 5 to 1 margin, respondents said that they would not recommend teaching as a profession. Considering that EdWeek readers are by and large educational professionals, that response, combined with the NEA data, is a clear indicator of the stress felt within the profession from outside reforms.
If we are to turn this trend around, we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands. And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter. It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist. Even so, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the Empire State dropped 22% in two years time. Many factors are contributing to the decline.
It is time for policymakers to step back and chart a different course. It makes no sense to cling to failed reforms. As school begins, students across the country are paying a hefty price.
How ironic it would be if the reforms based on the belief that three great teachers in a row are the key to student success, result in students not having certified teachers at all.
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Thanks for all you do,
NPE Fund Executive Director
Illinois: Chicago Parents Begin a Hunger Strike to Protest the Closing of their Neighborhood School
National Director of the Journey for Justice Alliance and NPE Board member Jitu Brown is helping lead the fight for educational justice for the parents and students of Chicago’s south side. The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School has worked for over 3 years to create a sustainable community school village in the Bronzeville area of Chicago. Parents are fighting for an open enrollment, neighborhood high school that has parent support, but their efforts are being thwarted by Chicago Public Schools. On August 17th, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School launched a hunger strike.
Connecticut: Are Increases in Graduation Rates Real?
Graduation rates in Connecticut and other states are on the rise. But as schools are incentivized to get students across the finish line in four years, are we sure that these rates really reflect increases in student performance?
Robert Cotto, Jr., a member of the Hartford Board of Education and a lecturer in the Educational Studies Program at Trinity College analyzes the complex factors that affect the new graduation rates at a time when they have become high stakes.
Read more here
Indiana: Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education Acknowledges Grassroots Efforts
The Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) actively encourages grassroots efforts to support public education with a new recognition program called Everyday Advocates. NPE Board member Phyllis Bush states, “ Every day there are people who do what is right for public education, not for the recognition and not because they believe it will enrich them financially, but because they know how important public schools are to our communities and to our kids. The members of Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education (NEIFPE) are thankful for those individuals who are advocating for public education.”
Read more here
New York: Over 200,000 Students in Grades 3-8 Opted Out of the New York State Common Core Tests
In this op ed in City and State, NPE Board member Leonie Haimson and parent Opt Out leader Jeanette Deutermann explain why so many New York parents now believe that Opt Out is the only option.
Read more here
Florida: Gates Foundation Grant Leaves the Hillsborough Schools with a Deficit
In 2009, the Hillsborough Schools accepted a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to overhaul their teacher evaluation system. Using the grant, the district began evaluating teachers by student test scores and instituted a merit pay system. Six years later, the district is finding itself in deficit spending as they meet the obligations that the grant put in place. Extra costs could be as high as $50 million.
Read more here
NPE just announced the location for our 3rd Annual National Conference, which will be in Raleigh, NC the weekend of April 16th – 17th. Mark your calendars now to hear keynote speaker Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.
Rev. Barber is the current president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the National NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee, and the founder of Moral Mondays.
You can read more about Rev. Barber and #NPE16NC on our website.
The Network for Public Education is an advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve, and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society.
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