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September 22, 2016

Do we need to declare a crisis to fix the teacher pipeline?

Is the U.S. suffering from a teacher shortage? Or (more presciently) is a teacher shortage looming? Whether backward or forward-looking, the media and a litany of researchers (ourselves included) have pondered, studied and reported on this and related questions with increasing frequency.

The non-profit, non-partisan Learning Policy Institute (LPI) is the latest think-tank to examine the issue from a national lens, in a series of reports that appear to be a fairly comprehensive analysis of the situation. I won’t pretend to have combed through all of them, but my quick take is that they reach much the same conclusion as we did: there’s no easy solution because it’s a complicated and nuanced matter— as one would expect in a country of 50 states and more than 14,000 school districts.

Hence, the holes in the teacher pipeline are myriad and vary widely depending on state education policies, demographics, housing conditions, the overall job market and, of course, school funding. There are common themes, however: rural and high-poverty districts; science, math and special education; and high schools all struggle more than their counterparts to recruit and retain teachers.

Have we reached “crisis” level yet? Who knows and really, who cares? Certainly not the states and communities who are already struggling to find and keep qualified teachers— and are employing numerous and, often times, highly creative methods to address this.  These methods often place teachers in classrooms before they are truly ready and qualified to teach.

Both LPI’s report and our own provide policies and programs that have been successful at attracting and retaining qualified teachers. And again, we reach the same conclusion: a multi-faceted approach that involves all the key players in the education landscape is the only way to ensure every school has access to qualified professionals who will be able to deliver the diverse and challenging curriculum that students need to succeed in the 21st century.

Sounds simple, but if coordination and communication were that easy then we wouldn’t be reading another report about a current/impending/distant crisis in education would we?






August 22, 2016

The “Soft” Side of Teacher Supply

Our last blog post talked about the “hard” side of teacher supply – the money.  However, we also alluded to non-monetary factors that are even more important in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers: respect, job satisfaction, and autonomy.  Very little research has focused on why individuals choose to become teachers, but we do have a plethora of information from teachers about why they choose to stay or leave the profession, which we can use to make assumptions about recruiting new teachers, as well.

A recent Center on Education Policy (CEP) survey highlights teachers’ views on why they entered the profession (mostly altruistic) and their greatest challenges (mostly policy-related).  Teachers, like most professionals, want to feel successful in their jobs (Moore Johnson & Birkeland, 2003), which is supported by evidence that teachers with higher value-added test scores are less likely to request transfers between schools (Boyd, et al., 2011).  35% of teachers who leave the profession cite dissatisfaction with their job as at least one of the reasons for leaving (Ingersoll & May, 2011).

How do we tap into teachers’ altruistic motives to create policies that may keep more high-quality teachers in the field?  Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Help novice teachers be more successful. The National Center for Education Statistics found that beginning teachers were more likely to stay if they had a mentor, with 86% of teachers with mentors staying in teaching for five years, as compared with 71% without mentors.
  2. Give teachers time to collaborate and be creative by reducing the number of hours they are instructing students. Forty-nine percent of teachers in CEP’s survey reported that their day-to-day teaching would improve with additional planning time and 34% reported that additional collaboration time would help them in teaching. U.S. teachers spend significantly more time in the direct instruction of students than their peers in other countries:

    Hours

    Source: http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG2014-Indicator%20D4%20(eng).pdf

 

  1. Build effective systems around student discipline. Each student has unique behavioral needs, which must be addressed through individualized strategies. Students should not be allowed to disrupt their peers’ learning, nor should they be suspended for minor infractions.  Schools and principals need to support teachers and by providing behavioral supports, both positive and punitive.  Teachers in CEP’s survey reported “managing student behavior” as their greatest school-level challenge.
  2. Include teachers in decision-making. CEP’s teacher survey clearly showed that teachers do not feel that their opinions were taken into account by policy makers. Teachers are on the ground every day with students, and thus know more than any other level of decision maker how policies translate into practice.  Involving teachers in policy making may have better outcomes for students, as well as improved perceptions of teacher professionalism.

Teacher Decisions







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