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It’s All About Education: What’s Behind the Teacher Shortage?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

 

Lauri Lee

“Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional),” screams the New York Times headline.  “Where have all the teachers gone?” asks NPR. Rhode Island is one of dozens of states across the country facing a teacher shortage. Providence is one of several large urban districts having difficulty finding teachers. 

Frankly, it doesn’t seem like much of a mystery to me. Think about people you know who love their jobs; what features attracted them to their professions and give them job satisfaction? The answers usually include good pay, respect, a sense of accomplishment, and an opportunity for growth. Even a difficult position is rewarding if it has some of these benefits. Does teaching offer these advantages? 

Pay

Teachers are hardly well paid when compared with other professionals. The average teacher salary in the U.S. ranges from $42,578 for an elementary school teacher to $48,235 for a high school special education teacher. In all states, K – 12 teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree. How does this compare to other fields? 

Plumbers earn an average salary of $53,820; entry-level marketing managers make an average of $51,555. The median annual wage for respiratory therapy, a field one can enter with an associate’s degree, is $55,870. In fact, the average salary for a garbage collector, a position that has no educational requirements, is $43,000 per year. 

Some argue that teachers only work ten months per year. It’s easy enough to do the math and see that, if you scale the earnings above to a 10-month pay scale, most of them are comparable to a teacher salary. However, there are few plumbers, respiratory therapists, and garbage collectors who take their work home with them; most teachers spend their evenings grading papers and preparing for classes. Many teachers spend their own money purchasing materials for their classrooms, as well. 

In 2013-2014, Rhode Island starting teacher salaries ranged from a low of $35,179 in Foster/Glocester to a high of $47,087 in Westerly. A beginning teacher in Providence earned $38,872. The teacher salaries are significantly higher in all of the Connecticut and Massachusetts districts that abut Rhode Island, and our small size enables teachers to commute easily depending on where they live. 

Respect

So we don’t pay our educators well; do we treat them with respect? You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Politicians and parents, businessmen and busboys – everyone seems to have an opinion on how to fix our schools. Most people would never think of telling their doctor that he ran the wrong test or of telling their mechanic how to fix the brakes when they drop off their car. But we do this to teachers all the time. 

We give our professional athletes far more respect and accolades than we do our teachers, pointed out most comically in this skit from Key & Peele. It’s a funny video, but as one viewer commented, “It's disappointing that a world that values education over sports is considered comedy.” 

According to the Global Teacher Status Index compiled in 2013, teachers in China, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey, and Singapore enjoy significantly higher status than their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The report goes on to say that, “Research shows that the better teachers are paid, the greater the student outcomes…. But improving pay and conditions alone won’t solve the problem of teacher status. Unless teaching is valued culturally, then the incentive of better pay will not be enough.” 

Satisfaction

Many people who report high job satisfaction cite feelings of accomplishment. And surely there are teachers who know that they are making a difference in children’s lives each day. But increasingly, we measure teacher performance using metrics that are partially beyond their control. We look at test scores and student performance to determine if our teachers are doing their jobs, without taking into account attendance rates, environmental factors, and other skills that are difficult to measure – such as creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration. 

Traditionally, teachers had high degrees of autonomy; they had the freedom to figure out what would inspire their students, and they had the ability to determine the best way to teach concepts and skills on any given day. Nowadays, with the advent of Common Core and high-stake testing, many schools have a more prescribed curriculum that leaves teachers feeling powerless. 

Nancie Atwell, longtime Maine educator, won the first $1 million Global Teacher Prize this year from the Varkey Foundation. She told CNN in March that she would not recommend teaching as a profession, especially in the public schools, where teachers are constrained by the Common Core standards and tests. “It’s a movement that has turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners. If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching, unless an independent school would suit you.” 

These are the reasons behind the national and local teacher shortage. Until we change some of these factors, the best and brightest are not going to become – and remain – teachers. And since teachers shape our future leaders, we’re all going to lose out. 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs athttp://www.AllAboutEducation.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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