Shortages, Accountability, Overtime, Funding
FEWER TEACHING CANDIDATES
Once again we see evidence of the growing problem of finding teachers to fill the ranks of those retiring and quitting. It’s still true that nearly 50% of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years. It’s also true that many more teachers are quitting and retiring early because of the difficulties associated with being a teacher in America in 2015: lack of respect, lack of support, blame for low achievement caused by out-of-school factors, micromanagement from non-teachers (U.S. ED, state DOEs, and administrations), poor job security, and stagnant or falling pay/benefits.
While few dispute the shortage itself, Benjamin Riley, head of the group Deans for Impact, a new consortium of 18 reform-minded deans of colleges of education, thinks it’s not yet clear why potential teachers are turning away.
“The honest answer is: We don’t know. There is nothing that has been done rigorously, in a way that’s empirically defensible saying, ‘We know this is why the number has dropped,’ ” Riley says.
It’s perhaps true that there is no “empirically defensible” way of knowing why there’s a growing shortage of teacher candidates and why more teachers are leaving the profession. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that it has something to do with morale, public perceptions, and the “reformist” attack on public education. The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher tells us that
…teacher job satisfaction has continued to drop significantly. Teacher satisfaction has declined 23 percentage points since 2008, from 62 percent to 39 percent very satisfied, including a drop of 5 percentage points in the last 12 months-the lowest level reported since 1987.
If the Deans for Impact don’t understand this then they aren’t paying attention. Their web site is lacking in information about what they hope to do…but they do say that
Member deans are committed to using common metrics and assessments that tightly align the activities of their programs with demonstrable impact on student achievement and other common outcomes measures.
This sounds to me like they agree with President Obama, Arne Duncan and the U.S. ED, that teacher training institutions should be “graded” using the same VAM methods that are so popular and unreliable for teacher evaluations. NPR does refer to them as “reform-minded,” after all.
Isabel Gray is a senior art history major at Millsaps College in Mississippi. She is passionate about exploring a career in K-12 teaching. But, as graduation nears, she’s also having second thoughts about a profession that, she feels, is obsessed with testing and standards.
That’s anecdotal evidence, and Ms. Gray is not necessarily representative of all the education students at her college…let alone the nation, but she does make an important point. Modern education in America is obsessed with testing and standards to an irrational degree. It’s likely that many educators or would-be educators are fed up with that particular national fixation.
The teacher employment picture is, of course, local and regional. One part of a state may have too many elementary teachers, while another may have too few. And the gaps vary by specialty — with many places facing serious shortages in areas including science, math and special education.
Because so many schools and school systems use unreliable VAM methods of evaluating teachers it’s not surprising that there is a shortage of special education teachers. There has been a shortage of special education teachers for as long as I can remember…most likely because it’s a difficult field of education in which to work. Added to the extreme difficulty of the job is the knowledge that you will be graded on how your students do on standardized tests. How many people would choose to teach a group of students who might be lower achievers by definition? In the current atmosphere of public education one would have to be aware that taking on that sort of teaching career would be more than just difficult.
Riley says his group, Deans for Impact, is all for giving teachers a raise — if it’s tied to better training that leads to higher graduation rates and other improved student outcomes.
“If we could really take control of the profession and increase the rigor such that teachers are effective from Day 1, I think that will prove to the public at large that this is an investment worth making, and one worth increasing.”
Words and phrases like “rigor,” “teachers are effective,” “improved student outcomes,” are buzzwords which imply test-based accountability. “Reform-minded,” indeed.
When we can grow beyond the insane focus on student test scores as the basis for “accountability” for everyone except policy makers, then we’ll be able to regrow the teaching profession. As long as schools and educators are going to be held accountable for the inappropriate and useless requirements thrust upon them by policy makers, most of whom have no education experience, there will be problems recruiting and retaining good teachers.
Test-based accountability produced no gains from 2000-2012 on PISA. Time for a new approach? — Linda Darling Hammond
David Greene, a blogger at Schools Matter responded to the NPR article.
#wherehavealltheteachersgone?: BE UPSET NOT ONLY AT HEADLINE BUT HOW THE ARTICLE IS WRITTEN
I wonder. Where is the in depth analysis of the causes briefly referred to in the beginning of the article? Why does it then go off to mention solutions like larger class size? What? Or merit pay? Why wasn’t there a deeper look at the anti teacher privatizes? The bashers? The increasingly difficult conditions facing new teachers? The actual movement to create this loss of quality and perhaps questioning teachers to be replaced with follow the fold instructors of testing technique? Where is the discussion of so many districts attempts to lower labor costs both short term and long by reducing not only average salaries as people leave the profession, and leave it sooner… But also the number of teachers vested in a pension? Where is the “enough is enough” statement?
LOOKING FOR BLAME IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
Why are teachers the only ones held “accountable” for student achievement? Are doctors held solely accountable for the health of their patients? Are firefighters held accountable for the number of fires in their communities?
We know that out of school factors account for the heaviest impact on student achievement (see here, here, and here). We need to hold local, state, and federal policy makers, parents, and communities accountable for student achievement as well as educators.
Has No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top improved student achievement? Have the laws focusing on teachers in Indiana improved student achievement? Have voucher schools or charter schools improved student achievement?
If governors, CEOs and commercial testing companies want to create assessments that are going to significantly help both teachers and our weakest academic children, here are some that they can develop:
* An assessment of children’s nutrition before they come to school.
* An assessment of how many times children have been read aloud to before they entered kindergarten.
* An assessment on student attendance and student homework.
* An assessment on children’s financial stability at home.
* An assessment of children’s abilities to sleep each night in a loving home.
* An assessment to gather data on the damage that is done to schools by politicians, CEOs and companies that lobby and manipulate schools into spending millions of dollars on products that are unnecessary, redundant and embarrassing.
Teachers are not the problem
Most teachers understand that their jobs don’t only begin when students arrive and end when they leave. There is always paperwork, evaluating student assignments, staff and parent meetings or phone calls, and planning lessons. One rarely “catches up”…until the end of the grading period or school year. When one task is completed another appears.
No matter what job I had in public education…from teaching a class of first or fourth graders, to teaching Reading Recovery, to doing diagnostic, achievement, and aptitude testing…I always, always, always had paperwork, student evaluation, staff and parent meetings or phone calls, and lesson planning waiting for me at the end of the day.
A study of official figures from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that 61.4 per cent of primary school teachers worked unpaid overtime in 2014, equating to 12.9 additional hours a week.
Among secondary teachers, 57.5 per cent worked unpaid overtime, with an average of 12.5 extra hours.
Across all education staff, including teachers, teaching assistants, playground staff, cleaners and caretakers, 37.6 per cent worked unpaid overtime – a figure higher than that for any other sector.
TEACHERS AS DONORS
Most teachers spend their own money for their students. Some who work in high poverty areas spend money on necessities like clothes, food, and school supplies for the students. Others spend money on decorations, posters, teaching materials and equipment, books, and manipulatives for the classroom. The fact that teachers have to do this highlights the underfunding and/or misuse of funds in most schools and school systems.
Instead of giving teachers a reimbursement for all that they spend of their own money for their classrooms, it would be nice if schools were funded at a level which allowed them to have everything teachers needed. Schools in moderate and high income areas often have PTAs or PTOs which provide some extra funding, but well supplied schools in low income areas are rare.
Absent sufficient funding from the state legislature, a small, token reimbursement to teachers for the money they spend out of their own pockets is welcome.
Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teacher’s Association, says it’s nice lawmakers are acknowledging the fact teachers often pay from their own pocketbooks. She adds, they wish it would be more, explaining Indiana teachers spend, on average, $1,000 a year for their students.
“It used to be that we bought things like backpacks, or we would buy paper or pencils. Nowadays, in some schools, they [teachers] are actually buying things like toilet paper, tissues, and hand sanitizers and soap, because school budgets have been so impacted, negatively, by some of the changes,” said Meredith.
“We need to reward them financially. This $200 is a great start,” said Smaltz.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.