Crisis or crock: Is there a teacher shortage?

“The teacher shortage crisis is here,” declares U.S. News, citing a new Learning Policy Institute report on the “coming” crisis.

Image result for projected teacher supply and demand

“We are experiencing what appears to be the first major shortage since the 1990s,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor who runs the institute.

“At a time when public school enrollment is on the upswing, large numbers of teachers are headed for retirement or leaving the profession because of dissatisfaction with working conditions,” reports U.S. News. “Meanwhile, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is dropping dramatically, falling 35 percent nationwide in the last five years.”

 For years, teacher preparation programs have been graduating twice as many teachers as are needed, writes Kate Walsh, who runs the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Over the last 30 years, programs have graduated between 175,000 and 300,000 teachers each year, yet consistently school districts have only hired somewhere between 60,000 to 140,000, with about 95,000 being the most recent number.

. . . by tweaking just one of the assumptions made by LPI, the results are altogether different. For example, if we project that the class size average of student to teacher is 16.1 to 1 (which, importantly, it is currently) rather than LPI’s estimate of 15.3 to 1, voila! The shortage disappears entirely.

Walsh also cites Dan Goldhaber’s critique of the report. LPI incorrectly assumes all new teachers are new college graduates, he writes. In fact, most newly hired teachers aren’t new graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Some delayed entering the profession and others taught, took time off (usually to raise kids) and are returning.

Claims of a teacher shortage crisis are deja vu all over again, writes Mike Antonucci.

The real teacher shortage isn’t new, writes Walsh.

For 30 years nearly every district in the nation has struggled to find enough secondary science and math teachers. Also and for just as long, rural and urban districts have been unable to tap into a reliable and stable source of new teachers, putting band aids like Teach For America on the problem.

Most school districts have way too many applicants for elementary teaching positions, she writes, “because teacher prep programs don’t see it as their job to tell their incoming candidates that they can’t all major in elementary ed, that they’ll need to consider another teaching field like special ed or ELL where there is real need.”

Under union pressure, school districts refuse to pay more for teachers with high-demand skills.

It’s the same old teacher shortage

Despite what you hear or read, there is no national teacher shortage, asserts Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality. A few districts are having real problems, but the real shortage is nothing new: “All schools, as they have for decades, continue to struggle mightily to find certain kinds of teachers (STEM, ELL, special education).”

Why? Schools refuse to pay more “to attract people who have skills which are marketable elsewhere, to live in an undesirable location or to work in tougher environments,” writes Walsh.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Teacher-prep programs have been over-enrolling students for years, “routinely graduating twice as many new elementary teachers as public schools hire each year.” she writes. Now programs are graduating fewer surplus elementary teachers.

Some districts have begun to panic, Walsh writes.

They’re used to having to sort through a pile of resumes to find a single good hire. They are not nimble or flexible enough to adapt their recruiting and hiring practices to a tighter job market.”

What is a reasonable response to a downturn in teacher production?  It’s not to open the floodgates and let anyone teach. We need to continue to encourage teacher prep programs to become more selective and do a better job preparing new teachers, so that districts don’t have to count on 20 resumes to find a single qualified teacher.

There’s a huge pool of credentialed teachers who left — or never got a chance to enter — the profession, she writes. “And we encourage districts to pay teachers in chronic shortage areas or who are willing to teach in really tough locales more than others.”

Dallas isn’t a Wobegon for teachers

Dallas is not Lake Wobegon, reports the National Council on Teacher Quality. The district’s new evaluation system did not declare that nearly all teachers are satisfactory.

Among the system’s seven possible teacher effectiveness ratings, about a third of the district’s 11,000 teachers were assigned to one of the three lowest. Around 40 percent received a middle-of-the-road rating. Only 22 percent received one of the highest three ratings.

Turnover was typical for an urban district and the lowest-rated teachers were the most likely to quit. “Only a small percentage of higher performing teachers chose to leave.”

Most districts use four or five ratings categories. Using seven allowed “for more fine-grained distinctions among teachers,” observes NCTQ.

The district also field-tested a rubric that measures a teacher’s performance across nearly 20 different performance indicators.

School leaders conduct at least 10 spot observations –10 to 15 minute drop-ins — per year to provide teachers with instructional feedback.

An “Exemplary” teacher now earns a minimum of $74,000, compared to $56,000 for a teacher rated “Proficient 1.”

NCTQ rates ‘best value’ ed schools

Western Governors University, which is all online, City University of New York-Hunter College and City University of New York-Brooklyn College are the nation’s top three “best value” colleges of education, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality

The ratings consider quality, affordability, how much teachers can earn in the state and “how well the school prepares future teachers for the realities of the classroom.”

A total of 416 programs in 35 states received a grade of A or B. The list is here.

NCTQ also launched Path to Teach, a free search tool with information about the quality of more than 1,100 schools of education.

Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

What teachers earn over time

How much do teachers make? Don’t just look at starting and peak salaries, advises Smart Money, a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality. What counts is how quickly teachers climb the salary ladder. For example, Boston teachers take seven years to reach $75,000 compared to 30 years in Wichita.

The report analyzes 2013-2014 teacher salary schedules in 113 mostly large school districts employing about 20 percent of the nation’s public school teachers.

The top five districts on lifetime earnings include Pittsburgh and the District of Columbia, for highly effective teachers in those two districts, as well as all teachers in Columbus (OH), Atlanta and Jefferson County (KY), which don’t have performance pay.

Adjusting for a high cost of living depressed pay in New York City, Hawaii, San Francisco, Newark and Oakland. Columbus (OH) pays teachers the most when cost of living is factored in.

The maximum salary a teacher can earn over a 30-year career ranges from $52,325 in Oklahoma City to $106,540 for an exemplary teacher in the District of Columbia.

Starting and ending salaries can be highly misleading. For example, Rochester posts relatively high starting and ending salaries ($42,917 and $120,582 respectively), but, over a 30-year career, teachers accrue $1.92 million in lifetime earnings. Conversely, Milwaukee teachers start at $41,070 but accrue $2.04 million over their careers because it only takes 15 years to get to their lower max salary of $78,143.

. . .  All performance pay systems are not created equal. Some districts like D.C. and Pittsburgh make it possible for exemplary teachers to earn the maximum pay in relatively short order, while others like Jefferson Parish and Caddo Parish in Louisiana do not.

There’s an interactive map of the 113 districts here.

How to make teaching an elite profession

Seven percent of teacher training programs receive a top ranking in National Council on Teacher Quality’s Teacher Prep Review. “With only 1 in 15 programs providing first-year teachers with solid preparation, it is clear we, as a nation, have a long way to go if we are going to do right by teachers as well as their students,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ’s president.

Among the top teacher training programs in the country — according to NCTQ — is Utah’s Western Governors University , which is online and competency based.

NCTQ recommends setting higher standards for teacher candidates, making it tougher to be recommended for licensure and holding teacher training programs accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates.

American schools need better teachers, so let’s make it harder to become one, argues Amanda Ripley in Slate. The “world’s smartest countries” treat teacher selection and preparation “the way we treat the training of surgeons and pilots,” she writes. Some U.S. states are raising standards for teacher education programs.

Rhode Island, which once had one of the nation’s lowest entry-bars for teachers, is leading the way. The state has already agreed to require its education colleges to admit classes of students with a mean SAT, ACT, or GRE score in the top one-half of the national distribution by 2016. By 2020, the average score must be in the top one-third of the national range, which would put Rhode Island in line with education superpowers like Finland and Singapore.

Sonja Stenfors, 23, is a teacher-in-training from Finland, worked as a classroom aide for a year to raise her odds of getting into a teacher-training program, writes Ripley. Only 10 percent of applicants are accepted.

After three years at a Finnish university, Stenfors is studying at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.  “Here it’s not cool to study to be a teacher,” she wrote in Finnish on her blog. “They perceive a person who is studying to be a teacher as a little dumber.”

The University of Missouri–Kansas City admits two-thirds of those who apply, writes Ripley. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score. Students have to have a B average, sit for an interview, and pass an online test of basic academic skills.

They do two semesters of student teaching, compared to Senfors’ four semesters in Finland, and receive “less rigorous, hands-on classroom coaching from experienced teachers.”

NCTQ: States get C- for teacher policies

The National Council on Teacher Quality has released its 2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. The national average was a C-, up from D+ in 2011 and D in 2009.

Florida earned the highest overall teacher policy grade in the nation, a B+. Louisiana, Rhode Island and Tennessee earned Bs, and 10 other states earned B-.  . . . Montana has consistently earned an F in the Yearbook for its record of inaction. Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming earned Ds or lower.

Here’s NCTQ’s new state policy web site.

Teacher evaluation is a-changin’

Most states are using student achievement to evaluate teachers, according to Connect the Dots from the National Council on Teacher Quality. “What is occurring more slowly are the policy changes that will connect the rich performance data from these systems to tenure decisions, professional development, compensation, teacher preparation, and consequences for ineffectiveness.”

NCTQ looks at teacher evaluation policies across the 50 states and Washington D.C. Louisiana is “connecting the most dots,” followed closely by Florida and Tennessee, NCTQ concludes. Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island and DCPS are also ahead of the curve.

Ed major is easy, students tweet

Education schools aren’t trying to draw high achievers to teaching, complains the National Council on Teacher Quality’s PDQ blog. Admissions requirements are low and assignments are undemanding. (See page 162 to 164.)

Tweets on #edmajor show education majors bragging about how easy their classes are.

By contrast, students on #mathmajor#sciencemajor and #nursingmajor frequently tweet about how hard they work and how much they enjoy solving difficult problems.