Friday, November 16, 2018

The Teacher Shortage in the United States: Discussion

{There are many reasons for the current teacher shortage in the United States. This kind of a shortage isn't anything new as the 1990s saw a similar teacher shortage and effects. This section of the report is about the discussions behind the reasons for the current teacher shortage. Some important vocabulary includes Act 10 and state standardized tests (Common Core).}  


The results of this research indicate that several primary issues need to be addressed in the United States to help solve the current teacher shortage. The research findings are separated into three categories: (a) The Residual Effects of Act 10 (Collective Bargaining), (b) The Calculated Risks of State Standardized Tests, and (c) The Failure of the State with Underpaid Teachers.

The current teacher shortage in the United States shows the increased tension between teachers and the politicians that determine teacher compensation and school district funding (Swalwell et. al., 2017). The delicate balance between educators and the state crashed in early 2011 with the first attack against teachers. On February 14, 2011, Governor Scott Walker revealed his budget plan for Wisconsin that addressed the projected $3.6 billion deficit. Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill—Act 10—cut collective bargaining for some public-sector employees which included teachers (D’Andrea, 2013).
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Act 10 via

Act 10 was initially meant to be the solution to the issues Wisconsin had been dealing with for years. The result was $750 million being cut from public education and left school districts with no way to find additional funding to replenish what was lost. Swalwell (2017) notes that “the reduction in state aid coupled with Act 10’s limitation on unions’ rights created a perverse cannibalization effect whereby districts were incentivized to use teachers’ health care funds to compensate for cuts in per-pupil state aid” (p. 487). 

The struggle for teacher rights had started. Following in the footsteps of Wisconsin, Indiana created a version of the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill in the form of “right-to-work” laws that affected unions. The backlash in Wisconsin started protests, especially in Madison, that later initiated a domino effect around the United States (D’Andrea, 2013).

School District Handbooks

Under Act 10, teachers are held to strict rules within school district handbooks. Termination of employment can happen at any time with or without cause, prompting a new risk to current teachers and teachers-in-training (Swalwell et. al., 2017). Because of Act 10, teachers have little right to challenge the specific wording of the handbooks or to fight for better professional courtesy among peers and administration. Politicians have such small insight on how Act 10 is affecting current teachers within the United States that the teacher shortage has continued to become an increasing problem (Swalwell et. al., 2017).

Job Stability and Rights

Within “In the Aftermath of Act 10: The Changed State of Teaching in a Changed State,” Katy Swalwell (2017), one of the contributors to the Peabody Journal of Education, notes that Act 10 cut more than teacher compensation and health care benefits. Teachers now deal with increased workloads and longer work days. Swalwell (2017) states that many of the changes caused by Act 10 made many teachers feel uncertain about their jobs and led to teachers leaving the industry. Reduced job stability and the dwindling rights and benefits for teachers are some of the biggest reasons the teacher shortage in the United States is so unpleasant (Swalwell et. al., 2017).  

Christian D’Andrea’s (2013) article notes that the new regulations cause increased employee contributions for potentially lower health insurance and pension costs. D’Andrea (2013) states that some school districts didn’t have a favorable view on Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill—Act 10—, especially in Milwaukee. Milwaukee has every reason to have concerns about Act 10. Milwaukee schools have some of the worst reputations and lowest state test scores within Wisconsin (D’Andrea, 2013). The reduction of state aid has left Milwaukee school districts without the much-needed money and resources to fund the fracturing school system. D’Andrea (2013) states that Milwaukee will struggle as state aid continues to be reduced and “a loss of $82 million in federal stimulus aid” is taken away from the district (p.40). 

Problem: The Calculated Risks of State Standardized Tests

Every school year states require schools to set aside certain times a year to test students in academic subjects like math, English, and science. Teachers are required to teach the subject matter within the state standardized tests (Berry & Shields, 2017). This leaves a small window for teaching other materials and giving the teachers enough time to teach everything required by Common Core (Richwine & Biggs, 2012).

No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top

Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs (2012) note that the state standardized tests are an unfair way to measure a teacher’s value. Since George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, state standardized tests have become the source to determine if a teacher is meeting state expectations. Student scores control teachers, making them accountable for any students’ poor academic performance (Rose, 2015). The Obama Administration added to the problem with a competitive grant program that tied teachers to student test scores to receive federal funds caused by the Race to the Top initiative (Rose, 2015).  

Academic Pressure

Mike Rose (2015), a research professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, wrote the article, “School Reform Fails the Test,” expressing his doubt on the current ties teachers are held to with student scores. In a report in the Backgrounder, “Critical Issues in Assessing Teacher Compensation,” Richwine and Biggs (2012) note that teachers who are measured by student test scores suffer from some of the highest attrition rates in the United States. The report also states that teachers who have students who perform under the recommended average rate tolerate the worst of the pressure in the education system.

Rose (2015) mentions that “when the standardized test score is the measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, other indicators of competence are discounted” (p.24).  A teacher’s ability is not only shown in student state test scores but in what the teacher can teach students that will be beneficial to them in the future. A considerable concern in today’s education is that students are losing nearly six weeks of learning so they can take state standardized tests (Suh, 2015). This leaves less time for learning and additional work for teachers to find time to teach. Figure 1 indicates how teachers feel about state standardized tests. 

Side Effects of Standardized Tests

There is only so much a test can cover. What about other skills that aren’t covered in math, English, and science tests? State standardized tests leave out important organizational and interpersonal skills students need. Teachers are the ones that can teach this to students (Richwine & Biggs, 2012). Students also suffer from being graded on state tests. Students shouldn’t be considered successful from states tests alone. Other intellectual knowledge needs to be learned outside of a test and can be taught in a classroom (Rose, 2015). State standardized tests leave teachers with less ambition to think creatively when teaching and have forced teachers to stick to a singular curriculum (Sawchuck, 2012). Teachers are at risk of reduced compensation if student test scores are lower than state standards (Suh, 2015).  

Problem: The Failure of the State with Underpaid Teachers

The United States was in a similar teacher shortage situation in the 1990s with teacher compensation cuts. Today, with the compensation cuts, teachers also deal with declining work conditions and an increased workload. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “Until states improve teacher working conditions, the public school systems will continue to struggle to keep and hire new teachers” (Gonzalez, Brown, & Slate, 2008, p. 2). In a study, conducted by Liza Gonzalez and Michelle Stallone Brown at the Texas A&M University and John R. Slate (2008) at the Sam Houston State University, many past teachers believe that teacher salaries are too low compared to the hours put in for prep-work. One of the participants of the study mentions that her salary was so low that she only made .36 cents an hour. Coupled with declining working conditions, some of the past teachers questioned if they should’ve left the profession sooner (Richwine & Biggs, 2012).

The Situation in the United States

In Oklahoma, teachers are dealing with similar conditions. The compensation teachers make in Oklahoma has led to schools being understaffed and student academic scores suffering (Oklahoma State Department, 2015).  Around the United States, teachers are leaving the profession because they feel as if they’ve been worked to the point of exhaustion and are not being compensated at a level appropriate for the workload (Rose, 2015). In addition, teachers are required to plan when they are going to be absent, something that isn’t required in other professions (Berry & Shields, 2017). STEM education is suffering from the lack of teachers with current teacher compensation (Ganchorre & Tomanek, 2012).  

Studies on Current Teacher Compensation

In a study published in the Backgrounder, “Critical Issues in Assessing Teacher Compensation,” an important issue was addressed on how much time teachers work outside of school (Richwine & Biggs, 2012). It states that a common misconception is that teachers are only working in school hours; some teachers are working 50 plus hours a week when working at home, on holidays, and weekends. Some teachers in the study state that they have always worked more than 40 hours a week while other teachers state they work less than 40 hours a week. The stark contrast between the hours' teachers work should signify that some teachers may need to be compensated at a different level. A big complaint from teachers is that the extra duties that are required after school are not paid. Some of the duties include lunch duty, bus duty, and after school duty (Richwine & Biggs, 2012).

Another side note from a study published in “Teachers Who Left the Teaching Profession: A Qualitative Understanding,” is that some teachers note that administrators are inconsistent with rules and regulations. Some administrators are accused of favoritism among teachers, employees, staff, students, and parents. Teachers who bring up the topic on compensation have been sometimes ignored and so the teacher shortage is understandable in certain states (Ganchorre & Tomanek, 2012). Teachers also state that they buy classroom materials out of their pockets for students every year (Richwine & Biggs, 2012).  

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