WHY TEACHERS QUIT
As schools across the state and nation started up last month, the teacher shortage hit major news outlets. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I have been talking about this for quite a while. I wrote about it in 2007 here, and continued to write about it since then. Click here for most of them under Why Teachers Quit.
The point is…it’s not a surprise. It’s not sudden. And those of us who are (or were) public school teachers saw it coming.
On July 12, 2015, the IndyStar reported that school districts all across the state are struggling to find first-time teachers as the number of graduates from education programs has dropped a dramatic 63 percent in recent years.
“It has become a real struggle,” Decatur County Community Schools Superintendent Johnny Budd told the Greensburg Daily News. “The pool of applicants has definitely dried up.”
For the 2009-2010 school year, the Indiana Department of Education issued 16,578 teaching licenses. During the 2013-2014 school year, they issued only 6,174.
“We’ll have such a shortage, five, maybe 10 years down the road,” said Darrel Bobe, superintendent of the North Knox School Corp. “People will panic, and we’ll all have to figure out what to do.”
The U.S. is in the midst of a period of selfishness. “I’ve got mine…get your own.” Taxes are anathema, even when needed. Our infrastructure is crumbling because we, as a nation, are not willing to pay for upkeep. Our schools are struggling to make ends meet because we haven’t got the foresight to see that our future depends on today’s children. This isn’t just a problem in the state of Indiana.
After years of recession-related layoffs and hiring freezes, school systems in pockets across the United States are in urgent need of more qualified teachers.
Shortages have surfaced in big cities such as Tampa, Florida, and Las Vegas, where billboards calling for new teachers dot the highways, as well as in states such as Georgia, Indiana and North Dakota that have long struggled to compete for education graduates.
“When you are 1,000 teachers short, you have to think about how that affects our children,” said Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction, Joy Hofmeister. The Republican has lobbied state lawmakers to raise salaries and reduce testing in a bid to make the profession more attractive. “We are talking about 25,000 to 30,000 kids without a permanent teacher.”
Here’s something else we could see coming. When you evaluate and punish teachers based on their students’ test scores, teachers are going to avoid students who do poorly on tests, like students who have special needs, English language learners, and students who live in poverty.
A panel of education stakeholders analyzing teacher recruitment and retention met for the first time Friday and heard data showing lower retention rates for schools with high-poverty and/or minority rates.
Pay is only one aspect of why there’s a teacher shortage. Poor pay, poor working conditions, and a public narrative which blames teachers for everything from lack of parental guidance to national security, is not conducive to convincing young adults to seek out a career in teaching. However, even if the teacher shortage is localized as some claim, the number of experienced teachers is dwindling as those teachers who can are leaving the profession for early retirement or other careers. The declining pay (in real dollars), poor working conditions, and public narrative, are the direct results of the privatization movement. The result is fewer new teachers, and more experienced teachers who are quitting.
“This is an old narrative, the idea that we aren’t producing enough teachers,” says Richard Ingersoll, an educational sociologist at University of Pennsylvania who has written extensively on the subject of teacher shortages. “As soon as you disaggregate the data, you find out claims of shortage are always overgeneralized and exaggerated. It’s always been a minority of schools, and the real factor is turnover in hard to staff schools. It may be true enrollment went down in these programs nationally, but there are so many former teachers in the reserve pool.” In other words, the problem isn’t that too few people entering the profession, but rather that too many are leaving it.
Such high turnover rates are disruptive to school culture and tend to concentrate the least experienced teachers in the poorest school districts. A 2014 paper by Ingersoll and his colleagues shows “45 percent of public school teacher turnover took place in just one quarter of the population of public schools. The data show that high-poverty, high-minority, urban and rural public schools have among the highest rates of turnover.”
“If you look at the shortage areas in terms of subject or what districts are having trouble filling jobs, it’s a shortage of people who are willing to teach for the salary and in the working conditions in certain school districts,” says Lois Weiner, an education professor at New Jersey City University and author of The Future of Our Schools. “It’s not a shortage in every district. Look at the whitest, wealthiest districts in every state and call up the personnel department, ask if they have a shortage in special ed or bilingual ed. They don’t—in fact, they are turning candidates away.”
BLAME THE UNION
“Reformers,” however, deny that privatization plays a part. They blame aging boomers, and the recession.
Mark Lotter, spokesman for the State Board of Education to which Pence appoints a majority of members, said it’s simplistic to blame Indiana’s embrace of charter schools and private school vouchers for the state’s teacher shortage, since many of Indiana’s reforms are based on Florida’s model and that state is doing just fine with teacher hiring.
He said Indiana’s shortage likely is due to a combination of fewer students in the teacher training pipeline and a major increase in teacher retirements as Baby Boomers hit age 65.
They also use the shortage to place blame on their favorite target, teachers unions.
State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, who represents a portion of Northwest Indiana, said he believes teachers unions constantly are bad-mouthing education reforms to discourage new teachers from entering the field and then using the resulting teacher shortage for their own political and financial ends.
Apparently hoping to show a balance, the author of the article includes a “reformer” who is a Democrat…
Gordon Hendry, an Indianapolis Democrat and Pence appointee to the State Board of Education, recently announced a plan to reduce Indiana’s teacher shortage by financially encouraging superior college students to go into teaching.
The article was posted on the Facebook page of NEIFPE and a conversation ensued. Sen. Hershman responded to discussion of the article…
My comment has nothing to do with individual teachers, but is rather an indictment of the constant negative drumbeat from ISTA leadership. The talking points they use, in pursuit of a singular political agenda, often play loose with the facts in order to promote their value to their membership. Apparently, the only way they feel they can succeed is to promote the thought that they are the only protection between you and the devastating results of any change in the educational status quo. It’s not only ridiculous, but that constant negativity is, in itself, a discouragement to those who might wish to enter the field. Sadly, it often bears little resemblance to the reality of education policy. I would welcome a thoughtful discussion on how we can support teachers and help them succeed. Despite what you are told, I am one of the vast majority of Republicans who sincerely appreciate teachers and the difficult job they face. But the ISTA’s blaming education reform for teacher shortages is just the type of ludicrous and demonstrably false rhetoric that isn’t getting us anywhere. [emphasis added]
I respond to the article above, and Hershman (taken from my Facebook response)
The Educational Status Quo
Hershman is wrong. “Reform” is the status quo in Indiana. Indiana is a state where public schools are closed so charters can open, where bankrupt charters are forgiven their taxpayer-funded loans, where an A-F school ranking system is manipulated for the benefit of political donors, where vouchers are available with only minor restrictions, where teachers are evaluated based on student test scores because testing is overused and misused, where teachers no longer have due process rights, where untrained or poorly trained non-educators can walk into a classroom and start teaching with minimal oversight, where the Governor and members of the State Board of Education blatantly prefer privatization over public schools, and where the highest ranking qualified educator in the state is harassed by the Governor and his lackeys for having the nerve to win an election.
Once more we hear a politician say “it’s not the teachers, it’s the union” without the obvious recognition that the union is made up of teachers! Claiming the union is promoting a teacher shortage for “their own political and financial ends” is ridiculous. A teacher shortage would mean fewer teachers. Fewer teachers would mean fewer members for ISTA, Indiana’s NEA affiliate. Fewer members means less money for ISTA.
Furthermore, what Hershman calls the union’s “constant negativity” is a not-so-clever deflection. What he perceives as negative is a rational reaction to the legislature’s and the State Board Of Education’s (SBOE) blatant attack on the rights of teachers and the solvency of public education. Since 2011 the Republicans in the General Assembly and the “reformers” on the SBOE have cut teachers bargaining rights, reduced due process to a “conversation with the superintendent,” lowered the qualifications for entering the teaching profession (all the while saying that we need better teachers), and diverted millions of tax dollars to private corporations and religious organizations.
ISTA correctly reflects the feelings of teachers in Indiana, rather than directing a campaign of negativity. Teacher morale is at an all time low because of the actions of “reformers” not of the severely weakened ISTA.
Hershman obviously dislikes ISTA…probably because ISTA wouldn’t support him. They likely wouldn’t support him because he doesn’t support public education. This is partisan politics…plain and simple.
It is true, pay is a factor…and likely an important factor in the current teacher shortage, but blaming low pay alone shows that the writer of the article doesn’t understand what it means to be a teacher. Lack of professional respect from the media and political partisans, loss of control of one’s classroom, and the intrusion of days and days devoted to test prep and testing are just as important factors as pay.
“The state has increased money for education.” If true, how much of that went to charter schools and vouchers? How much of that went to paying for standardized tests? For money to have a positive impact on public education it must be directed at the classroom. Lotter said it was simplistic to only blame money diverted to charter schools and vouchers as the cause of the teacher shortage. It’s equally simplistic to only blame low pay.
Quoting Hendry in the interest of political “balance” is another indication of the complete ignorance of the writer of the article. Anyone familiar with the nation-wide education “reform” movement understands that there are some Democrats who are just as invested (economically, politically, and emotionally) in destroying public education as are Republicans. See Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, Rahm Emanuel, et al.
Indiana’s merit pay plan based on student test scores is, as has been shown nationwide, invalid and unreliable. Student achievement tests aren’t developed and field-tested to evaluate teachers. There are other important factors which are causes of student low achievement that are completely out of the school and teacher’s control. There are reasons why schools in high poverty areas have lower achievement levels…reasons like lower infant birth weight, lack of health care, increased rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and other factors related to poverty. As long as the mostly-wealthy members of the General Assembly ignore the high levels of child-poverty in Indiana, teachers who teach in those schools will be “punished” for dedicating their careers to working with the students who need the most help.
Sen. Hershman ignores the legislature’s responsibility in ending poverty in Indiana and the destructive force which the Republican education policies have had on public education. Instead, he blames ISTA. This simply shows his partisanship and ignorance and is an example of the “constant negativity” that is the true cause of Indiana’s (and the nation’s) teacher shortage.
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.
Click here to sign the petition.
For over a decade…“reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.