“Indiana, in many ways, has been ground zero for education reform…you have a constant barrage of policies that are designed to get people out of teaching,” [outgoing dean at Indiana University-Bloomington’s School of Education, Gerardo] Gonzalez says. “So what we have in Indiana is veteran teachers – effective teachers – leaving the profession because they’re tired of dealing with the very negative policy climate, and then younger people, particularly the high academic ability, talented people that we need in teaching, choosing other professions.”
Specifically, Gonzalez cites what he calls “wrong-headed, ill-informed” practices such as incorporating student test scores heavily into teacher evaluations, as well as the General Assembly’s decision to untie pay raises for teachers who work toward their masters degree or other higher-level academic training.
Low pay is just one small part of the problem…and not the most important. Most teachers don’t go into education for the money. I knew I would never be rich when I started teaching in 1975, but I also knew that I would have enough to provide for my family so I didn’t have to worry about food, shelter, and medical care. I knew that if I persevered in my career I could eventually give up the part time job I held during the school year…and the summers working in home remodeling and retail. I continued teaching for 35 years and eventually I was able to give up the extra jobs.
Since the mid 2000s, however, salaries of many Indiana teachers have either stagnated or decreased. A teacher, who retired in June of this year ended her career with a salary that was nearly 10% less than what she received in 2009…and about the same as her 2007 salary (this does not include the increases in insurance each year).
And now that pay is tied to student test scores, teachers of low achieving students are seeing their salaries diminish even more.
Stagnant salaries account for only one reason there is a growing teacher shortage in Indiana (and Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, California, etc.).
There’s more, though, and it can be explained in three words: “misguided ‘education reform.'”
“I think part of it has to do with all the reform that’s occurred over the last 5-7 years. That sent the message that teachers are not professionals. They don’t have a lot of control over their job. There are different laws that are telling them how long they have to do math, how long they have to do reading, and what they can consider reading. All of that plays into teachers feeling deskilled and like they’re not true professionals,” [Chair of the Department of Educational Studies at IPFW Terri] Swim said. “As the teacher, you often feel very ineffective. You don’t have time to teach, but you’re being evaluated based upon student performance that’s based upon not your best instruction because you were rushing or didn’t have enough time.”
In other words, after having been to school for four years (or more with a Master’s degree) and accumulated thousands in college loan debt, teachers are told what to teach, how to teach, and how long to teach each subject. They are then blamed if the “what,” “how,” and “how long” don’t improve student achievement. Teachers are told by non-educators in executive offices and legislatures…
“Teacher, you cannot choose how to do your job. You cannot use your professional judgment. You cannot make decisions which alter what we tell you to do. And your job will depend on how well your students do on ‘the test.‘
- It does not matter if the teaching methods forced upon you are ineffective.
- It does not matter if the standards are developmentally inappropriate.
- It does not matter if you have to deal with a child’s home problems, their illnesses, their lack of ability or motivation, their community problems like crime and environmental toxins, or their lack of adequate food or medical care.
- It does not matter if ‘the test‘ doesn’t adequately show what students have really learned.
- It does not matter if ‘the test‘ isn’t valid or reliable.
- It does not matter if ‘the test‘ cut scores are at an arbitrary, unreasonable level.
‘The test‘ matters. That’s all.”
EVALUATIONS BASED ON FAULTY DATA
Some teachers are even evaluated on the test scores of students they have never met or taught.
I’m a New York City art teacher whose “effective” rating last year dropped to “developing” because of student standardized test scores — in math, a subject I don’t teach.
Yes, New York City takes Common Core math and English Language Arts test scores and attributes them to teachers who teach different subjects, even though they are not certified to teach those subjects, and even though they may never have met the tested students. Tens of thousands of teachers of science, social studies, all the arts, physical education, foreign language, technology and other subjects have at least 20 percent of their evaluation based on math or English Language Arts test results. (Because I am now required to have an “improvement plan,” I am curious to hear how teachers can improve the scores of kids we don’t teach.)
…But earlier this year, when Prior received his teacher evaluation, he was deemed “minimally effective”—earning just 33.25 points out of a possible 100 in the “student achievement” category that made up half of the document.
The reason? The “student achievement” had nothing to do with music. It was based on the state standardized test scores in reading and math of the lowest performing quarter of students in his school. Many of those students had never taken one of his classes…
Would a company evaluate one of its salesmen based on customer purchases from a different salesman? Would a hospital evaluate a doctor based on the health and recovery of patients she never treated?
Why do we subject teachers to this craziness?
It makes no sense…
THE PRIVATIZATION FACTOR
…unless you factor in variables under the umbrella of privatization: maximize profits for private and privately run schools, privatize public services, lower taxes for the wealthy.
Deprofessionalizing the teaching profession — treating teachers like temporary, part time, short term employees — means that benefits can be reduced and higher salaries can be avoided. With fewer teachers “at the top of the scale” schools can lower their personnel costs. With the ability to fire teachers for any reason older, more experienced, more expensive teachers can be let go before their higher salaries have an impact on the budget — and the corporate profit margin.
As the job of teachers becomes more difficult, less fulfilling, less professional, there are fewer prospective teachers.
…There is a growing sense, says Bill McDiarmid, dean of the University of North Carolina School of education, that that K-12 teachers simply have less control over their professional lives in an increasingly bitter, politicized environment.
One obvious solution is to pay teachers more, but the loss of millions to school districts in Indiana to property tax caps has made it difficult to maintain the status quo, let alone adding significantly to the cost. Another would be to seek more nontraditional teachers from the business world, but that move would be resisted by the teachers themselves.
On the way to education reform, state officials made a number of public relations blunders, often speaking in negative, all-encompassing ways about educators. Those missteps understandably made teachers feel as though they were being bashed for doing an already underappreciated job, and it has likely scared some students away from the field.
Teacher shortages have given privatizers in government an excuse to lower standards for teachers, allowing for schools to hire even cheaper non-provessionals.
The State Board of Education met in Topeka Tuesday to consider a number of changes to the state’s education system. One of the proposals approved will allow 6 “innovative “districts to hire unlicensed teachers. Those districts are McPherson, Concordia, Hugoton, Marysville, Blue Valley and Kansas City.
Supporters say it will help some districts fill voids left behind by teachers retiring or leaving the profession in recent years.
More public tax money is going to private schools (vouchers) or to privately run charter schools and requirements for teachers have already been lowered in Indiana. Lower personnel costs and higher profit margins are the goal.
The deprofessionalization of teaching has been purposeful in order to lower costs and raise profits. Curriculum and achievement are irrelevant. A teacher shortage under those circumstances is guaranteed.
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.