"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Manufacturing the Teacher Shortage in Order to Solve It

The Washington Post has a piece today on the teacher shortage that contributes to the myth that NCLB has raised the bar on teacher quality. While it is true that NCLB increases the emphasis on new teachers having subject matter knowledge, which is important, NCLB and Bush Co. have taken the emphasis off of new teachers having any pedagogical knowledge of how to teach, address special needs, plan lessons, assess learning, and understand children. What has occurred as a result of the emphasis on subject matter requirements is that many state departments of education have opted for alternate route certification programs such as the one that Michelle Rhee headed in New York City before her ascension to Chancellor in DC. Another example of this kind of retreat from pedagogy by ED is the infamous and corrupt history of Rod Paige’s embrace of the online certification scam, ABCTE, that got its start with a discretionary grant from ED. ED gave its stamp of approval of ABCTE before it ever offered one of its online tests to the first teacher candidate to plunk down $500.

All of this would make an interesting political story, even without the added human tragedy that urban and rural schools face increasing shortages of qualified teachers that outfits like Teach for America , with all the willing co-eds from Yale and Harvard that it can round up, cannot begin to address. In over ten years, TFA has sent about 12,000 idealistic temps into the school to do their two years. We need 100 times that number. And even if there were enough of them, these idealistic TFA candidates did their 2 years of service having vast knowledge gaps when it comes to the history, philosophy, theory, psychology, or supervised practice of teaching. Even if TFA could double its numbers by in the next 5 years, it would be a sad drop in the bucket in terms of the growing shortage, which is exacerbated by, 1) accountability systems that guarantee failure, thus decreasing the chance of recruiting the best teachers where they are needed the most, 2) bonus pay proposals that reward the teachers in the best schools, and 3) a scripted, chain gang approach in urban schools that scares away creative and ethical teachers. (None of these issues, by the way, are even mentioned in today's WaPo gloss.)

Here is a little reality therapy for the reporters like Mathews at WaPo, who continue to advance the idea that a permanent stream of replaceable temps is good enough for the weakest rivulets of the human capital stream that flows all around that shining decision-making capitol on a hill.

From the NCTAF’s new report, The High Cost of Teacher Turnover:

By allowing excessive teacher turnover to continue unabated year after year, we have been digging a deep hole for ourselves. In 1994, former U. S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley, warned the nation that we would need to hire two million teachers
within ten years to offset Baby Boom retirements. Over the next decade we beat that goal by hiring approximately 2.25 million teachers – but during that same decade we lost 2.7 million teachers, with over with over 2.1 million of them leaving before retirement.

. . . .

In 1999, in the School District of Philadelphia, 919 new teachers began teaching and 12,000 students began ninth grade. Six years later, 58% of those students had graduated from high school, but only 30% of those new teachers were still teaching in Philadelphia. This means that the new teacher dropout rate (70%) over six years in Philadelphia was higher than the student dropout rate (42%) (p. 1).

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