Carol Burris recently became executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund. The NPE Fund is the nonprofit, nonpolitical, nonpartisan wing of NPE, as opposed to NPE’s c(4), which endorses political candidates and is led by Robin Hiller of Tucson.
She plans to issue regular reports on important education issues. A prolific and well-informed writer, her perspective will help to inform and hopefully shape the national debate about education.
In this post, she explains the causes of the national teacher shortage. As she writes, the New York Times attributed it to an improving economy, which opened up more attractive jobs than teaching (hmmm, given the collapse of the stock market, maybe the shortage will end soon?).
Burris says the economy may have something to do with the shortage, but other factors were also important:
Earlier this year, NPR also reported on the national teacher shortage. Correspondent Eric Westervelt’s identification of the cause went beyond the usual suspect—the economy. Noting the dramatic drop in enrollment in teacher education programs (a 74% drop in less than 10 years in California), he astutely attributed at least part of the problem to the way corporate reforms have impacted the profession.
Westervelt reported that the Common Core and its battles; high-stakes testing, the erosion of tenure, and the evaluation of teachers by test scores, have all contributed to the crisis.
This comes as no surprise to those inside the profession.
David Gamberg is the superintendent of the Greenport and Southold districts on Long Island’s east end. He has long worried that the politically hostile environment for teachers is contributing to the shortage we are seeing today. “I suspect that a range of issues conspire to exacerbate the problem. Certainly the ongoing, nationwide attack on teachers and unions is near or at the very top of the list of factors driving people away.”
What Gamberg suspects has evidence. There are frequent stories about public school teachers who are leaving the profession or taking early retirement because of the toll of working in a ‘test and punish’ environment. A November NEA survey reported that nearly 50% of all teachers are considering leaving due to standardized testing. Of equal concern is how frequently educators are cautioning young adults about entering the profession.
Renowned author and teacher of literacy, Nancie Attwell, recently won the first annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize awarded by the Varkey Foundation. When she was asked by CNN whether she would advise others to become a public school teacher, her response was she would not. She said she would tell them to find a job in the private sector, or in an independent school instead. She spoke about how constricting both the Common Core and testing have made the profession. “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.” she said.
EdWeek reported on the story, which was followed by a poll. By nearly a 5 to 1 margin, respondents said that they would not recommend teaching as a profession. Considering that EdWeek readers are by and large educational professionals, that response, combined with the NEA data, is a clear indicator of the stress felt within the profession from outside reforms.
If we are to turn this trend around, we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands. And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter. It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist. Even so, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the Empire State dropped 22% in two years time. Many factors are contributing to the decline.
It is time for policymakers to step back and chart a different course. It makes no sense to cling to failed reforms. As school begins, students across the country are paying a hefty price.