Monday, September 14, 2015

Teacher Shortage is Real. No Claim.

Teacher shortages are real. They are impacting our children. 

Speaker Jeff Hickman recently penned an opinion piece for the Daily Disappointment Oklahoman that reveals future strategies of school reformers. It is the blueprint for their response. We would be wise to study it.

First he calls the reports of teacher shortages, “claims”.  Words matter, and his choice is deliberate. He chooses to negate the concern by calling them claims. “Claim” is defined as a statement that has no evidence to support it, where truth is in doubt. So, in his first sentence he argues that the teacher shortage is disputed, and that schools have not provided evidence of the shortage.

Great way to begin a serious discussion about our kids’ future, huh?

All those statements about teacher shortages are claims. Not fact. Claims, which in the second part of his first sentence, are all about more money for teacher salaries.  His subtle ‘education organizations’ will be easy to trace. So, a not-so-subtle attack on education organizations. Only his first. Not his last.

I would say as truth that there is a national teacher shortage…reformers have, for years, waged war on educators and this is the result. Teachers leaving, teachers (like me) retiring rather than face the mess. Teachers moving to other states. And, worst of all, prospective teachers choosing other careers. Reformers have crowed for years that public education is failing, and teachers are to blame. Was this their end game, to create the climate where there are no teachers? So now their claims of failing schools is now reality, backed by evidence? My cynical heart thinks there is more than a bit of truth here. I’m not the only one who thinks this might all be deliberate. Here’s an article about Kansas, one of Rep. Hickman’s great examples.

Then Rep. Hickman attacks local school boards…saying they choose NOT to pay their teachers more, but they could do that if they really valued their teachers. He then launches onto his next attack: administrative costs. Not a new argument – claim, might I say? If I had a nickel for every time I’ve addressed this claim with evidence. Here. And here. No, we are not draining education funding with administrative costs. No, we don’t need to consolidate administrations or create county school districts. I suggested to my new State Senator that if new funding for school could truly not be found (stop the tax cut. Stop the tax cut. Stop the tax cut), perhaps all unfunded mandates to schools could be immediately ended. That would go a long way to reducing the administrative costs of our districts. What I’m about to say is a claim, since I don’t have the evidence to back it up. It is my hunch that school districts have had to increase non-teaching administrative costs to deal with federal and state mandates. Someone must oversee these demands, cross the t’s. Someone must deal with the sea of papers and requirements. The consequences of mistakes in dealing with mandates could be catastrophic. But, this is only a claim, an opinion.

So, Rep. Hickman, I suggest again. End all unfunded mandates to schools and let’s see if my claim can be proved. Let’s see if that could slow some administrative costs. And please read Okeducationtruth’s latest piece for much more information about administrative mandates and the costs they demand.

Let’s also remember, classroom aides are considered ‘administrative costs.’ One way to respond to the teacher shortage is to add more students to a class, and give the class an aide to assist the over-burdened teacher. Rep. Hickman is attacking these aides who are trying to support our teachers.

Hickman’s next argument is to do away with the state teacher salary schedule. His claim is this is the reason our teachers make less than in other states…it’s the salary schedule! And he uses that $44,000 average salary figure…I challenge you to ask a random group of teachers if they make the average salary…I know I didn’t until I had over 20 years of experience. Here’s the dirty secret of teacher salaries…districts get to add all the benefits and insurance amounts to the top…and then whisk them away when real dollars come to play. Our salaries are padded with our insurance benefits. That number is NOT what teachers live on.

Speaking of teacher salaries, why do young teachers with children qualify for food stamps with their padded salaries? Why are we asking our educators to take on student loans to begin their career qualifying for welfare benefits? No claim. I know teachers who had to use these benefits to make ends meet so they could go to work, teaching our children.

Hickman brings up the idea of merit pay, without ever calling it that. He says we must move away from the ‘century-old’ practice of paying teachers for education and experience…and we must ‘move toward a teacher compensations model that rewards excellence, incentivizing outstanding teachers to stay longer.’ Couple of questions. Who defines ‘excellence’ in this model? Is he, as I fear, talking about test scores?  What is an ‘outstanding’ teacher? I can answer that second question for him.

The state DID have a program to reward accomplished teachers who went above and beyond. National Board Certified Teachers were given a stipend after certification. They were expected to stay in the classroom as full time teachers, in public schools. This program allowed me to stay in a profession that underpaid me for 39 years. I was able to contribute something more to my family, and justify my decision to stay in the classroom, making thousands of dollars less than other college-educated professionals. Even though I knew I would never get rich as a teacher,  my decision affected my entire family.  Now this program is another of the unfunded mandates pushed onto districts. Now, instead of an NBCT receiving a $5000 stipend for holding his or her practice up to the most stringent standards in the profession and reflecting on his or her contributions to student learning, new NBCTs will, maybe, possibly, receive a $1000 salary bump…IF the school district doesn’t pay above that pesky state salary schedule. Unfunded mandate. Instead of the state providing those funds directly to teachers (Well, not exactly. Given to districts which took out taxes and FICA), now districts are expected to come up with the funds.

So, pay ‘excellent…outstanding’ more, based on some rationale to-be-announced…later. Just trust us.

Rep. Hickman envisions (claims) a future where there is no state salary schedule, where each district can now use their money (after getting rid of all the administrators) to compete for those teaching superstars who would be like NBA free agents. Competition! That’s what’s needed. Does he not know districts already pay above the state minimum, and teachers can shop around for higher salaries?

I wish I had the expertise to address his ‘free agent’ argument. From the little I know, don’t teams have to shuffle other players, let some go, in order to offer those contracts to super star players? Is this the future Hickman sees? Won’t that exacerbate the teacher shortage? Is he buying into Bill Gates’ claim that a super star teacher could easily handle 50+ in a classroom?

The state has actually given us a test-case for their super star NBA free agent scenario (claim). Will NBCTs now be sought out, now that districts know they will cost more? Will NBCTs see certification as a way to contribute to their families and their professions?

So, back to Rep. Hickman. In his opinion piece, he attacks school boards and administrative costs. He attacks un-named education organizations. They are the problem.

He seems to offer as solutions, merit pay and competition. They are the answer.

We would be wise to be watching for these ‘solutions’ in the next Session.  I’ll be interested in seeing if the very real #oklaed teacher shortage is addressed at all.

In the meantime, the teacher shortage is real. NO CLAIM.

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