Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wanted: Teachers in Kansas

No kidding! Kansas, like everywhere else has come alive to the fact that their teachers are retiring and there are no replacements on the horizon.
Superintendent Jerry Burch, who heads USD 309 Nickerson-South Hutchinson, was in Colorado last month trying his luck at a recruitment fair.

In his district, 45 percent of the teachers are eligible to retire within the next three to five years, he said.

The San Luis Obispo California Coastal Unified School District ( realized about a year and half ago that one-third of their veteran teachers were retiring in the next three to five years, and worse, because of the common policy of rejecting experienced applicants in favor of cheaper new graduates, they realized there was a looming gap in mid-career cadre. The district had plenty of novices, few mid career teachers, and disappearing veterans.

The shortage of math and science teachers is especially severe, but should not have been unexpected. I have an article I clipped from Newsweek in 1985 predicting a future severe shortage of math and science teachers in twenty years. The future is now, and America's principal response turned out to be no response.

Kansas legislators have come up with a list of suggestions for alleviating the shortage.

the development of alternative licensure programs, including Internet-based, off-campus and weekend programs; teacher preparation programs; scholarships for students pursuing teaching in math, science and special education; financial incentives to attract teachers; and promoting teaching in Kansas.

It is a typical list, but notice what this list, and most such lists, omit. The powers that be never think to attract the proven, mid-career teachers back to the classroom, by, for example, granting year-for-year credit for experience on the salary scale instead of the measly five to seven years. School insult teachers by paying teachers with fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years experience a wage corresponding to at most five years. Even so, many teachers love teaching so much they would have accepted such stingy pay. These are teachers whose only mistake was to move from one school district to another for whatever reason (often to follow a husband's job opportunities), many never realizing that their proven experience had little value next to the economic advantages of hiring novices. Schools could have had highly experienced teachers at the bargain price of just a little more than a newly minted teacher, but no. It was a shortsighted economy and now schools all over America are facing the consequences.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


50 Percent. That number comes up again and again and again. Tonight I heard yet again on The Newshour with Jim Lerher . Principals say it.
Some principals, like Nelson Burton, are eager to shake up their staff. Burton leads Coolidge High School. Low test scores show that his school has been failing for years.
L. NELSON BURTON, Principal, Coolidge Senior High School: It's a terrible thing to say, but half of the staff here ought not be(my bold). They just don't fit in to what we're doing here. And I dare say many of them won't fit into any program where they're trying to raise student achievement.
JOHN MERROW: Does that surprise you, a principal says, "I wish I could fire half my teachers, they're not on board, they're not effective"?
MICHELLE RHEE: Does it surprise me? No. I've heard things like that from lots of principals.

Professional developers say it.
JOHN MERROW: Michelle Rhee has set aside nearly $20 million for professional development. But Cheryl Krehbiel, who runs the program, doesn't think she can help every teacher.
CHERYL KREHBIEL, District of Columbia Public Schools: We have a number of teachers who I don't believe will ever believe that kids can learn at high levels. And those are the teachers we need to move out quickly, rapidly, at whatever cost.
JOHN MERROW: Can you quantify -- I mean, what percentage of your roughly 4,000 teachers feel this way, have this problem?
CHERYL KREHBIEL: Fifty percent don't have the right mindset(my bold). And there's the possibility that more of them don't have the content knowledge to do the job.

I have heard professors of education say that 50% of preservice teachers should never have been accepted into the schools of education. I have heard professors of math classes for preservice elementary teachers say that 50% do not have the math skills or understanding to lay the essential foundation our children need to master math to the levels needed in the modern world. I have heard teachers say that 50% of their colleagues should not be teaching.

Tonight I decided that I have heard the 50 percent estimate so many times that I am going to start a collection of citations and look for research that may confirm or deny the estimate. I fully understand that I have cited nothing but anecdotal evidence, and I fully understand that some people believe anecdotal evidence equals worthless evidence, but anecdotal evidence is a place to start. Anecdotal evidence can often be the first indication of important research-worthy trends.

What research has confirmed is that the most crucial factor leading to academic achievement is teacher quality. If significant numbers of teachers should not be in the classroom and yet remain, all other education reform efforts are a waste of time, money and energy. Research may find that less than 50 percent should find another career, but even so, efforts to recruit and retain quality teachers must be the linchpin of education reform. One place to find quality teachers would be among the proven older teachers from out of district who are routinely denied teaching jobs in favor of younger, less experienced (read: cheaper) applicants. Even if such older teachers are employed, they must accept deep pay cuts since most districts will only give about five to seven years credit for experience on the pay scale even to proven teachers with ten, twenty or thirty years experience.