Tag Archives: teachers

Really? There’s a teacher shortage. “Now a warning?”

Now A Warning There was that memorable moment in “Death Becomes Her” (1992) —

“Glamorous musical star Madeline Ashton’s (Meryl Streep) incredulous response to Lisle Von Rhuman’s (Isabella Rosselini): “But first, a warning…” after Madeline has already drunk the potion: “NOW a warning?!”; the jaw-dropping, award-winning visual effects used to comic effect, including the “backwards walk” when Madeline’s head is rotated 180 (and later 360) degrees, and her shocked cry: “My ass! I can see my ass!” [Filmsite.org]

And now the chair of the Nevada State Board of Education can see a teacher shortage in Clark County.

“Never has Elaine Wynn, president of the Nevada State Board of Education, felt so alarmed in her job as she did after hearing details of the Clark County School District’s teacher shortage.

During a board meeting Thursday, the former casino company executive and longtime philanthropist told district officials that she would clean house at any private business with such a “horrific” human resources crisis.” [LVRJ]

Before I get out my hankie – there is nothing new about a shortage of qualified teachers.  The problem is that it’s getting worse.  [WaPo]  Not sure? Take a gander at pages 95-98 of the Department of Education’s list of shortage areas in Nevada. (pdf)  Further, it’s not like we haven’t figured out why this is happening:

“What’s going on? Pretty much the same thing as in Arizona, Kansas and other states where teachers are fleeing: a combination of under-resourced schools, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods, an increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy.” [WaPo]

That pretty well sums it up. Interestingly enough, most of the proposed “solutions” to the shortage don’t address any of the problems listed above.  First, there is the turnover rate factor – we can offer alternative licensure, up to almost allowing anyone who can fog a mirror and work for minimal wages to be employed in a classroom. However, if they don’t stay there then that’s not really a solution.

Secondly, even if the turnover rate is relatively low (as in Clark County) having people stay isn’t the solution if they can’t be recruited in the first place.   Let’s review: If salaries are lower in public education – especially in secondary specialties – and student loans are becoming more burdensome, then why would we expect a person to select education instead of electrical engineering?  Or, an elementary education major instead of business management? [DB] [DB] [DB] Add under-resourced schools, evaluations based on standardized test scores, the loss of professional autonomy, and taking a huge chunk of the day to do little but Test Prep – and what did we expect?

Recruitment/Turnover and Trends

A comprehensive study by the CPRE (pdf) updated in 2014, listed seven trends “transforming” the teaching force. Abbreviated, they describe a force which is (1) larger, with a high percentage of the increase involved in special education; (2) grayer, as in aging but not to such an extent as to cause shortages; (3) greener, with more rookies in classrooms; (4) more female; (5) more diverse; (6) consistent in academic ability, and disturbingly (7) less stable, less likely to remain in the profession. Of first year teachers who left vacancies in their wake, 20.8% resulted from school staffing action; 35.4% for personal or family reasons; 38.9% to pursue another job; and, a hefty 45.3% because of dissatisfaction.  Among the factors related to dissatisfaction: school and working conditions, low salaries, lack of classroom resources, student misbehavior, accountability issues, lack of opportunities for development, lack of input into decision making, and factors related to school leadership.

Solutions That Don’t Match The Problems

School “reform” is a popular topic on the hustings, but all too often it appears that the solution doesn’t match the problems incurred by our school systems.

(1) Punishing Poverty and Paucity.  Consider for a moment a district or school which has a high percentage of “at risk” students, and the usual paucity of funding for school resources.  What’s the next step?  We read newspaper articles and listen to broadcasts telling us about the FAILURE of the West Moose Tail School District! Then, the next higher governmental entity swoops in to “take over” the school(s) in order to reorganize and apply various reforms.   The “failure,” of course, is to make “adequate yearly progress” whatever that might mean, and the meanings vary among the states.

The obvious question is: Progress toward what? And the usual answer is higher standardized test scores.  Granted test scores are easy to digest, but before swallowing them as a significant indicator of what is going on in a particular school the cautionary tale of Mission High School in San Francisco, CA is in order. [MJ]  The emphasis on test scores creates its own bias – we pay attention to what we can quantify and ignore most of the rest, including classroom work, homework, grading, classroom examinations, the opinions of students and parent, and the school’s relationship to the community.

The default technocratic response is to blame the staff, then offer such reforms as charterization, massive staff layoffs, administrative replacements, and  curriculum changes.  There are issues within these One Size Fits All solutions.  Not the least of the issues is, as the Mission High School example offers us, whether we’re using a relevant definition of “failure.”  In the backwash of all the attention paid to the formulaic news about school failure, based on reports of test results, there is little attention paid to the conclusion of the 2012 Brookings Study (pdf) which reported there is no correlation between testing standards and student achievement.

The disconnect is also related to political rhetoric, of the kind in which critics of public education speak of “tossing good money after bad.”  This talking point is exceptionally handy for shielding the speaker from actually having to explain (1) how we measure success, (2) how we allocate resources between and among schools, and (3) how we analyze the performance of students by any other metric than standardized test scores.   For public education critics, the purpose of test scores is to punish poverty and paucity, not to identify where additional resources might be allocated to their best advantage.

(2) It costs money to be a teacher.  How to recruit the next generation of teachers?  Perhaps it might be a bit easier IF student loans weren’t such a financial burden on young people fresh out of college.  It might have been helpful if Republican members of the U.S. Senate hadn’t blocked S. 2432, a bill to allow those with student loans to refinance them. [TheHill]  And, also helpful if the Republican version of a student loan bill wasn’t a handout to the bank-based loan system. [TP]

It could also be helpful if local school boards weren’t trying to shave pennies at teachers’ expense for health insurance, and other benefits. [C&L]  And, if teacher retirement programs were defined benefit plans instead of less satisfactory defined contribution plans, hybrid plans, or other manifestations of financial industry subsidization.

We might also consider that “Capitalism Works.” If we want more young people to enter the field then money talks.  Teach Biology or enter one of the health care professions? Teach Algebra or enter into one of the  tech fields? Teach Business or enter finance? Teach in an elementary school or go into marketing?  Guess which will ultimately pay more?

“Solutions” which eventually created a down-draft in teacher pay and compensation packages is exactly the opposite of what common sense (and the free market) say will generate greater interest in the profession.

(3) R-E-S-P-E-C-T  is not just a song in Aretha’s repertoire.  What did teachers say were the causes of their dissatisfaction? Once more: school and working conditions, low salaries, lack of classroom resources, student misbehavior, accountability issues, lack of opportunities for development, lack of input into decision making, and factors related to school leadership. If we remove the money elements, there’s “accountability,” “lack of input into decision making, and school leadership.”

Let’s assume the old saw is correct, “10% of the students will cause 90% of the problems.”  How does the school administration handle disciplinary cases? There’s always the “pipeline” solution, it’s easier to suspend and even expel than to find the resources to deal with troubled youngsters.  However, that “solution” doesn’t do much more than to shuffle the youngster into another setting wherein he or she becomes someone else’s problem.  How many elementary schools in the country have full time counselors? Full time social workers? Access to full time psychologists? How many school districts have fully funded alternative education programs?  Again, if the “solution” is “removal,” then we’re not dealing with students, we’re dealing in statistics.

“Lack of opportunity for development?” Classroom teaching is one of the few professions in which in order to move up a person has to move out.  The “merit pay” solution might be effective IF the salaries were what they should be in the first place.   And, even “merit pay” gets tied to things which are not necessarily  indicative of quality teaching – again, test scores.  Perhaps instead of tossing bird seed into a grain silo we concentrated on how we organize our schools, how we utilize the experience and skills of exceptional teachers to mentor and advise the rookies?  How about if we gave classroom teachers more access to the decision making process about community relations? Budgeting priorities? Disciplinary and counseling options?

How about instead of announcing the Failure of West Moose Tail, and then imploding the whole institution, we ASK the people directly involved what needs to be done to improve the school’s performance on more than just standardized test scores, instead of simply firing the lot and hauling in a new batch of the graying, the greener, the females, the diverse, and the likely to leave in five years?  This “solution” doesn’t change much except the identification cards of the people who are supposed to be in the building.

Perhaps instead of doing the politically expedient, the economically parsimonious, and the socially conformative – we actually tried to find solutions to fit the problems?  Then, just maybe, we wouldn’t have to keep repeating, “Now, a warning?”

*Previous Posts: The Numbers Game Part II, The Merit Pay Mirage,  (note the discussion of the Ladue School District (MO) and merit pay criteria) The Ultimate Game, February 20, 2011. The Wrong Answer Can Always Be Found, April 10, 2011.  “Silver Bullets at Moving Targets” April 3, 2011.

Comments Off on Really? There’s a teacher shortage. “Now a warning?”

Filed under education

One Letter We Must Read

Of all the many expressive things written in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT, THIS letter is one of the most thought provoking I’ve seen thus far.  If you have children in school, know a teacher, or even if your only connection is as a former student — CLICK HERE.

1 Comment

Filed under education, Gun Issues

A Fable of Testing in the Land of Bahl

Once upon a time in the land of Bahl a coterie of influential PooBobs decided that all the Bahl Players would be rewarded on a strictly meritocratic basis using elaborately constructed standardized testing to insure that only the best Bahl Players would be on the best teams.  Kabillions of dollars flowed into the campaign to tell all the citizens of Bahl that the testing of the Bahl Players would yield excellent results.  Soon the citizens of Bahl began to believe the PooBobs, and to question their coaches.  Surely, a coach whose players had the highest standardized test scores should see the best results in the win-loss columns.

So, a decree went throughout the land that the Manufacturers of Standardized Bahl Tests would provide the means by which to measure the Bahl Players.  Players would be tested on the rules of the Bahl Game, on accurate passing, on accurate shooting, on the capacity to block shots, steals, assists, and on the continuity of dribbling.  The citizens of Bahl anxiously awaited the results.

However, when it came the season to actually play the Bahl Games the results didn’t seem to align with the copious promises for success.   Some teams, already including some highly skilled Players, weren’t seen as making adequate progress — and their coaches were questioned.  Why, people asked, with all the success you had last season, can you not make even more progress this season?

Other teams found that the meritocratic system appeared to diminish the Players rather than enhance their contributions.   Only a precious few Players scored high on all the phases of the tests — rules, passing, shooting, blocking, stealing, assisting, and dribbling. More  Bahl Teams found themselves putting Players on the Court who while they achieved relatively  high overall scores on the Manufactured Standardized Tests didn’t blend well as a Team.

One team, whose Players scored well enough in Blocking to assure the management that progress was just around the corner, was so lacking in offensive capability that their winning percentage declined as other Bahl Teams discovered it was all but unnecessary to guard them.  Another squad, highly skilled — as measured by the Manufactured Standardized Testing — was exceptionally proficient in shooting.  However, their games degenerated into mediocrity as other teams noticed that by utilizing a slow-down half court defense the scorers (who couldn’t defend worth a stale pickle on a concession stand hot dog) would be unable to play to their strength.

There were even problems within the teams.  Should a coach play only those Bahl Players who had the highest overall scores?  Should a Player who had a high score on the Manufactured Standardized Test section on shooting, but lower scores on blocking and rules be put on the Court?  What of the Player who scored well above the proficiency level on blocking shots, but well below the level of proficiency on dribbling, should he or she be included on the Bahl Team?

Should a Bahl Player with an 89% proficiency level in free throws, but only a 10% proficiency rate in Rules, be given playing time in preference to a Player with a 50% proficiency rate in free throws and a 50% proficiency rate in Rules?   And so the controversies continued.

Not only were the controversies created internally, but there were also controversies beyond the practice Courts.  Who was the best coach?  Was the best coach the one whose Players tended to score well in all the phases of the Manufactured Standardized Test?  Or, was the best coach the one whose Players actually won games?  Why was it that some of the best coaches, as measured by the performance of the Bahl Players on the Manufactured Standardized Test, weren’t achieving the expected level of success in the Win-Loss columns?

Why did some coaches persist in putting Bahl Players on the Court who scored only marginal results on the Manufactured Standardized Test, but who appeared to contribute an unmeasurable, and hence unscientific, “spark off the bench?”  Was a coach to be measured by the Win-Loss Column, the results of the Manufactured Standardized Tests, or the employ-ability of his or her Bahl players?

What were the citizens of Bahl to make of the coach whose Players consistently displayed leadership, ingenuity, creativity, and artistry such that they were always employable but who didn’t always achieve proficiency levels on the Manufactured Standardized Tests? Who weren’t always winners as measured by the Win-Loss column?

The questions remained unanswered as the citizens of Bahl listened to the campaigners for the Manufactured Standardized Tests.  The campaigners told them that proficiency could be scientifically measured, and the measurements would correlate to the efficacy of the coaching.  Surely global success was around the next corner.

Thus, coaches began to coach-to-the-test.  Only Bahl Players who demonstrated overall proficiency were included on the playing rosters.  Coaches proudly pointed to the proficiency scores of their Bahl Players, and some Teams advertised their test scores.  Managers put greater pressure on coaches whose Bahl Players were considered insufficiently proficient on the Manufactured Standardized Tests.  More and more  practice time was devoted to preparing for the Manufactured Standardized Tests than was given to preparing for the upcoming Games.

But the fans were not pleased.  Teams scientifically assembled based on the proficiency scores on the Manufactured Standardized Tests weren’t “winning.” Their Bahl Players were very good at taking the Manufactured Standardized Tests, but their performance on the Court was assuredly less than entertaining.

It was soon discovered that some Bahl Players, who were very skilled at taking the Manufactured Standardized Tests, weren’t all that good at actually Playing Bahl.  Indeed, it was perceived that when adverse situations developed on the Courts requiring creativity, ingenuity, and good old fashioned Intestinal Fortitude, some of the teams flopped faster than an Italian Serie A striker in the penalty area.

However, the Kabillions of Dollars continued to flow into the campaign to make Bahl Playing a scientifically measurable human activity, one in which the individual Bahl Players could be evaluated in percentiles, and in which the coaches could be graded based upon the overall achievement of their Players on the Manufactured Standardized Tests.   Owners, managers, and coaches continued to tinker with ways to make their systems conform to the demands of the test taking while still trying to teach the Bahl Game.

But the fans continued to be less than thrilled by the results.  “Be patient,” said the Campaigners for Manufactured Standardized Tests,” All will be well when all the Players score above the proficiency level on all the segments of the examinations. And, all will be perfect when all the Players on all the Teams have improving test scores.”

The fans persisted in looking at the score board, which told them what they already knew — their belovéd teams were composed of Bahl Players who were better at taking the tests than performing on the Courts.  Coaches who enjoyed the Bahl Game were leaving the field — saying that to teach the measurable portions of the Bahl Game was to place undue emphasis on the content of the contest, and not the contest itself.   Fans became anxious.  The improving scores on the examinations weren’t equating to the promised improvement in the Bahl Game.  “Never fear,” said the campaigners for Manufactured Standardized Tests,” There will be a day when all the Bahl Players will be satisfactorily proficient, and then you will see our success.”

And, the campaigners for Manufactured Standardized Tests continued to spend Kabillions to send that very message to the fans, over and over, again, and again.

Comments Off on A Fable of Testing in the Land of Bahl

Filed under education, No Child Left Behind