Category Archives: Teacher Recruitment

Alternative teacher training in Minnesota

Minnesota, one of the leading states on academic achievement–but in Minneapolis, with one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the country–discussed changing the qualifications for teachers in the last legislative session, with Rep. Carlos Mariani (D-Saint Paul) carrying legislation to strengthen the legal status of programs such as Teach for America and Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) offered similar legislation.

Also under consideration were measures to  incorporate measures of student  performance in teacher evaluations.

The push for reforms will continue, says Minnesota Public Radio:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty pushed to change the standards for teacher’s licensure and move toward a merit-based evaluation system. Though the proposals fell under heavy opposition from the state’s teachers union, the ideas retain enough bipartisan interest that they’re likely to carry into next year.

The teacher licensure measures would’ve affected two groups of people — new college graduates who don’t have a traditional education degree but still want to teach through programs like Teach for America and mid-career professionals who want teach but without taking years to get an education degree.

If a high-achieving state like Minnesota can be considering such changes, surely Kansas should as well.

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Kansas Gets a D- on its policies regarding teachers

One of the groups leading the charge for some sensible reforms in how we hire, supervise, fire, and pay teachers is the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group got a lot of press last year when it released its Teacher Policy Yearbook, which is a “review of state laws, rules and regulations that govern the teaching profession,” addressing “teacher preparation, evaluation, alternative certification and compensation.”

The group offers five criteria for judging any changes to personnel policy [quoting from this page]

  1. They are supported by a strong rationale, grounded in the best research available. (A full list of the citations supporting each goal can be found at www.nctq.org/stpy.)
  2. They offer practical, rather than pie-in-the-sky, solutions for improving teacher quality.
  3. They take on the teaching profession’s most pressing needs, including making the profession more responsive to the current labor market.
  4. They are for the most part relatively cost neutral.
  5. They respect the legitimate constraints that some states face so that the goals can work in all 50 states.

The report evaluates five different areas of state policies. Here they are, taken from the Kansas-specific version [PDF] of the national report.

  • Delivering well-prepared teachers. Grade: D+
  • Expanding the pool of teachers. Grade: F
  • Identifying effective teachers. Grade: D
  • Retaining effective teachers. Grade: C-
  • Removing ineffective teachers. Grade: F

All in all, a poor showing.

Each area (represented by the five letter grades) has a number of goals, for a total of 33 goals. Of those, here’s how Kansas policy breaks down:

  • Fully meets: 2
  • Nearly meets: 2
  • Partially meets: 8
  • Meets only a small part: 6
  • Does not meet: 16

How can Kansas improve? Here are a few items from each area. While the report does comment Kansas policy in some goals, I’ve focused in this list on goals where Kansas “does not meet” or “meets only a small part.”

Delivering well-prepared teachers

  • Require college students who enter teacher-training programs to achieve a minimum score on a college entrance exam or basic skills test.
  • Require would-be elementary teachers to pass a test on methods of teaching reading and basic knowledge of mathematics.
  • Require teacher-training programs to increase the amount of data they collect on their graduates, so as to verify the effectiveness of the programs.

Expanding the pool of teachers

  • Require mid-career candidates for alternative certification to pass a subject-matter test, and use the results, as appropriate, to let candidates test out of certain classes.
  • Allow other organizations, such as school districts, to prepare teachers.
  • Eliminate the requirement that alternatively certified teachers be hired only after an exhaustive search for traditionally certified teachers
  • Require alternative certification programs to collect more data on their graduates, so as to verify the effectiveness of the program.

Identifying effective teachers

  • Extend the probationary period for new teachers to five years and create a mechanism for evaluating teacher effectiveness.
  • Require districts to use student performance as the preponderant component of the tenure-granting process. (Today, it’s one of many components, and the language gives districts too much wiggle room to ignore it.)
  • Require all probationary teachers to be evaluated annually. (Today, it’s required for only two years.)

Retaining effective teachers

  • Pay teachers more for demonstrated classroom effectiveness, and for being granted (a reformed version of) tenure.
  • Start new teachers higher on the pay scale if they have relevant work experience.
  • Pay effective teachers more if they work in hard-to-staff subjects or schools.
  • Start a pilot program to test pay-for-performance, and look to Tennessee’s approach as a guide and food for thought.

Existing ineffective teachers

  • Put a strict limit (one year) on districts using non-licensed teachers, but be sure to require subject-matter knowledge.
  • Enact a policy whereby teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation are placed on an improvement plan; make all teachers who receive two unsatisfactory recommendations in a row (or two in five years) eligible for dismissal–even tenured teachers.
  • Differentiate the dismissal process for teachers under question for ineffective teaching from those suspected of committing felonies or morality rules.
  • If a school or district wishes to terminate a teacher for performance, make any appeals be heard before a panel of educators, not a court.

Those are a few of the recommendations. The document is 152 pages long, so I have highlighted only a few elements of it.  For example,  the report report identifies state(s) with best practices as well as research that supports the recommendations for each goal.

Teacher Pay Goes up in USD 501

Teachers to receive a 4.2 percent increase in the new budget.

Do some deserve more? Yes. Do others deserve less? Perhaps. But right now, it doesn’t make a difference. They’re all paid the same, differing only on time in service and number of credits earned in college.

Looking for Teachers

The search for teachers continues in some districts:

“Despite heavy recruitment efforts that have become more expensive and time-consuming, USD 457 Garden City still is looking for 15 teachers and other districts in the area also have openings, with school starting next week.”

Now is too late, of course, to make significant changes to policy. But Kansas ought to consider changes that might make future recruiting easier, such as flexible pay schools. Move away from years-of-service and number-of-credits pay to performance pay and according to market conditions. If people with science degrees can make more money working in industry than they can teaching, why shouldn’t they be paid more–and by more, we mean more than someone with an education degree whose prospects are more limited?

“Garden City isn’t the only school district having trouble staffing all its classrooms. As of June, there were 1,100 teacher vacancies in Kansas, and administrators say the shortage is nationwide.

USD 214 Ulysses still has two teaching openings this week, and two other positions will be filled with long-term substitutes, said Superintendent Bill Hall.”

Why can’t the substitutes be given permanent jobs? The article doesn’t say, nor does it speculate on whether the individuals have the knowledge and skills to do the job. Perhaps the problem is arcane and obsolete requirements concerning teacher credentials?

Speaking of which …

“”The one teaching vacancy in USD 363 Holcomb is an early childhood special education teacher employed by the High Plains Educational Cooperative, which provides special education services in the area. The position opened on Monday, a week and a half before school starts, Superintendent Robert O’Connor said.

He said Holcomb also has been searching for a counselor since Liz Sosa left the position about two weeks ago to become director of business retention at Finney County Economic Development Corp. — and it’s not having much luck. Although he’s received several applications from candidates with counseling experience, he hasn’t heard from any who also have teaching experience, a requirement for certification in Kansas.

‘That’s one of those certification flaws that’s jumping up and biting us,’ O’Connor said.”

USD457 is making a few changes, such as recruiting in other states.

“Additionally, the salary schedule is structured so that the hire of a less-experienced or less-educated teacher costs less than paying a long-serving veteran with more degrees.”

Here again is a logic that has little direct correlation with what we actually pay schools do to–teach children.

There are a few other changes underway, too:

“The frustration has reached the Kansas State Board of Education, which approved in June new teacher licensure regulations that make it easier for Kansas school districts to hire teachers from other states or countries, as long as they pass exams in the subjects they teach. The new policy also allows a teacher with an endorsement in one science subject to gain an additional endorsement by passing an exam.”

The article suggests also that schools need to pay teachers more. But again, this should be done according to the particular need; mere across-the-board increases will waste funds that could be spent on the hardest-to-staff areas.

The article closes by reminding us that working conditions (most notably, No Child Left Behind) play a role, too. There’s certainly room for talking about that.

Teaching slots still open, Garden City Telegram,  August 7

LJW: Money Isn’t the Only Factor

Yet another article on teacher recruitment and attraction comes from the LJW, this time in an editorial (“Job Satisfaction,” August 5).

“State education officials are right to be concerned about the ability of Kansas school districts to hire the teachers they need.

A quarter of the state’s 35,000 teachers will be eligible to retire in the next four years, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis told the state’s 2010 Commission, which studies education issues, this week, and many university students are bypassing teaching careers for higher-paying jobs.

The main focus of any discussion of how to attract more people to the teaching profession usually falls on money. In order to get more teachers, you must pay them more.”

You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

But wait.

“When the average teacher salary in Kansas ranks it 38th among the 50 states, money clearly is one part of the puzzle, but are there other reasons teaching has become an undesirable job for many young people or that trained teachers are leaving the profession?

Teaching isn’t the highest paid profession, but many people over the years have found that it offers non-monetary rewards. There’s a lot of satisfaction in helping children grow and develop into healthy, productive adults. Has that somehow changed?”

Perhaps people are looking for opportunities in less bureaucratic environments, where individual effort is rewarded rather than being constricted to a salary scale that is more suitable to a factory environment?

Nope. Blame the feds:

“The demands of the classroom obviously have changed. It seems it is less about the one-on-one relationship between teachers and students and more about objective measurements of student success. While well-intended, the federal No Child Left Behind program has forced teachers to push all of their students toward standardized goals rather than nurture individual talents.”

Granted, we have our differences with NCLB, too. On the other hand, if some students are not performing up to grade, shouldn’t a teacher be concerned about that?

“Respect is another major factor in job satisfaction and is something teachers may find lacking in their profession. It seems that parents don’t respect and support the actions and decisions of teachers as much as they once did. Unfortunately, many students also seem to adopt that disrespectful attitude by the time they reach junior high or high school. Teachers now are expected to deal with myriad social and family issues that weren’t their responsibility a generation or two ago.”

There’s a chicken and egg problem: to what extent do parents slough off their responsibilities because the schools will take care of them? And when families are enabled by private scholarship funds or voucher programs to choose their own school, discipline is less of a problem. Why? Greater buy-in.

“The 2010 Commission is looking at several strategies to attract more teachers and keep them in the profession. Higher pay is at the top of the list, but they also are considering programs to help teachers repay student loans and have districts contribute toward the tuition of students who commit to come back to teach after graduation. They also are looking at more funds for professional development and mentoring programs to raise the satisfaction and status of the profession.”

Tuition reimbursement and loan repayments are simply another way of saying “more money.” But as the LJW editorial points out, the amount of money isn’t the only consideration.

“Are there other factors that should be addressed? Do teachers need more flexibility in their schedules? Do they want more or different training? Is there a way to take some of the administrative burden off teachers and give them more time to just work with youngsters, which probably was the main thing that drew them to teaching in the first place?”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“Every job has its ups and downs, and it’s true that more money makes just about any job look better, especially if someone is trying to support a family. But, while higher salaries are important, making teaching a more attractive profession may be more than just a matter of dollars and cents.”

Bingo.

Importing Teachers to Topeka

We’ve noted before that USD 259 Wichita is making aggressive recruiting efforts in the Philippines. WIBW reports that Topeka is importing teachers, too.

Speaking of USD501 Topeka, Carolyn Campbell said “We have had teachers come here from India, Philippines, and Spain. the math and science have been very strong educators for us.”

We’ve got nothing against trade, or even people seeking a better opportunity elsewhere. But instead of going to the trouble of recruiting in foreign countries, perhaps we ought to revisit the policies and practices that govern the teaching workforce here. Merit pay, steamlined credentials, easier methods of mid-career professionals to enter the teaching corps, and so forth.

(“Teacher shortage in Kansas,” WIBW)

Address Teacher Shortage by Allowing Double-Dipping

One superintendent thinks that a way to address the shortage of teachers is to change the rules of retirement:

“As 38 percent of the USD 418 certified staff and 53 percent of administrative staff becomes eligible for retirement in the next five years, according to Superintendent Randy Watson, the district faces the challenge of finding enough new teachers fast enough to fill the need.

Ironically, Watson said the best, most-qualified source to fill those positions are those who are retiring. But many retirees are deterred from re-entering the education field because of laws governing the state’s retirement system KPERS.”

[snip]
“The biggest pool of candidates the state has to offset the shortage, we’re turning our back to because we don’t want them to double-dip,” Watson said.

“The penalty currently if someone takes retirement into KPERS, which for the majority of people is around the age of 54 or 55, and they decide to move to another school district, that district is penalized 15.47 percent each year,” Watson said. “If that person decided to stay in the district where they retired, they are limited to earning $20,000 a year.”

Watson and other officials propose a plan that allows teachers who collect a pension to keep teaching without such a financial penalty. In brief, a teacher can work, receive a pension, and pay 12 percent (6 percent employee, 6 percent employer) into KPERS. The teacher does not get any of that money back.

(Superintendent Watson testifies on KPERS issue, McPherson Sentinel,  July 26)

On the Bus from Michigan

To deal with a shortage of teachers, one school district thought of sending a bus to Michigan to bring teachers for a visit. It didn’t work out, but it pointed to the need for something to fill positions.

The state’s 296 school districts had more than 1,100 teaching vacancies as of June. Dale Dennis, deputy state education commissioner, said shortages are most acute in special education, math, science, vocational education, foreign language and music. A shortage of counselors also is an issue, he said.

As of last week, Garden City still had 22 teaching vacancies, including in special education, high school English and math and middle school math. If it can’t fill all the jobs, it will start the school year next month with long-term substitutes, its officials told The Hutchinson News.

But bigger problems appear to be looming. According to a recent state audit, one in four current teachers will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. The state has about 35,600 full-time teachers.

In Wichita, the state’s largest district, 730 teachers, counselors, social workers, librarians and nurses will be eligible to retire within the next five years. They include 48 English and 35 social studies teachers, where schools now have relatively few vacancies.

“It just continues to get worse,” said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, the committee’s chairwoman. “People aren’t going into teaching.”

You’ll hear low pay as one reason for the shortage. Certainly pay is one factor that people consider when choosing a profession. But there are other factors that should be considered.

Has Kansas done anything to make the certification process less onerous? Perhaps we should have a discussion of whether certification is even useful in guaranteeing good teachers. After all, if you’re a mid-career professional who always had a desire to enter teaching, would you really want to take a bunch of education classes that might appear to be of questionable value?

How about moving away from the union rule, where everyone is treated the same, regardless of performance?

Teacher Shortage, the Hays Daily News, July 23.

See also: Schools Chief Wants Proof, Topeka Capital-Journal, July 29

One thing everyone agrees on is there aren’t enough teachers in Kansas. [Alexa] Posny said 50 percent of the state’s teachers can retire in the next five years, and more than 30 percent of first-year teachers will leave the system within the first three years. On that note, she applauds the recent board decision to lower the grade-point average requirement for teachers coming from out of state.

“If a teacher has been teaching for 18 or 20 years very successfully, and possibly 20 years ago their grade-point average wasn’t quite up to snuff, is that enough to say that a person is not qualified as a teacher?” she asked.

Will Change to Licensing Improve Teacher Recruitment?

Will a recent change in licensing requirements prompt more out-of-state teachers to take up teaching in Kansas? Perhaps at the margins. The Dodge City Globe looks locally for an answer.

It sets up the story: “The Kansas Board of Education voted 9-1 this month to remove grade point average restrictions for teachers coming to Kansas from other states or countries. Although the teachers will still have to pass exams in their subject, they will no longer be required to have the 2.5 GPA that was previously asked of them.”

It asks Joni Clark, HR director of USD 443, about the changes. Her reply: ‘”I appreciate that the state of Kansas, under the leadership of Mr. Dennis, has taken a proactive approach to teacher licensure in the state of Kansas.  Some of the things will certainly help in getting teachers into the transition to teaching program.”

But the GPA requirement has not been a significant hurdle, she says.

” One of the biggest problems Clark said she faced when visiting career fairs in other states is that out-of-state teachers who have already passed licensure and content exams in their own states are disinclined to retake the same test simply because they want to teach in another state.

“(The tests are) the same, but because they have the word ‘Michigan’ on them, they’re not accepted in any other state in the Union,” said Clark, giving an example. “So they’d have to turn around and take the exact same test again.”

Clark calls for a national test. We’re not terribly excited about the idea. Before we go down that road, how about making the teaching profession a profession? Pay people for performance, not simply according to the union contract of time in service plus university credits earned.
Teacher recruitment: Will it be easier?, Dodge City Globe,  July 2

SBOE Approves Changes to License Requirements

As expected, the State Board of Education approved changes to licensing requirements. The Parsons Sun speaks in favor of the move:

Changes the state board approved include removal of the requirement for out-of-state teachers, no matter their years of classroom experience, to have earned a 2.5 grade point average in college to be hired in Kansas. Teachers still would have to pass exams in the subjects they teach to get a license.

The new policy also would allow a licensed teacher with an endorsement in one science subject to gain an additional endorsement by passing the state’s content exam. So, a high school biology teacher could pass a test to become qualified to also teach chemistry.

[snip]

But it also points out an intriguing idea made by the board’s former chairman:

Board Member Steve Abrams, Arkansas City, was the lone dissenter on the 10-member state board, saying the move will decrease the quality of education. He suggested the state develop other ways to determine teacher effectiveness, including a licensing system partly based on test scores.

“If scores go up, then they have done all that’s expected. If they go down, they have proven not to be effective,” Abrams said.

The Sun dismisses the idea of using test scores on the grounds that “How students do on standardized tests, while a big focus because of federal mandates, is not the only indicator of future success in school or in life and shouldn’t be overly relied upon as an indicator of a successful and qualified teacher.”

Requiring newcomers to the state to pass a performance standard, while none is applied to those who started their teaching careers in Kansas, may be unfair. It would also be odd given the fact that performance has no bearing on teacher compensation.

Some districts around the country are starting to experiment with pay-for-performance, if only for bonus money and not total compensation. But that would be a start. As for loosening the requirements for cross-disciplinary teaching in the sciences, on balance that’s probably a good thing.

(Parsons Sun Friday Editorial, June 15).

The DeSoto Explorer has more.  See Start changes teachers’ licensing requirements, June 21.

“We think it will reduce a little bit the barriers that we see in the teacher licensure system without doing anything to reduce the quality of the people,” said Martha Gage, who is director of teacher education and licensure for the Kansas State Department of Education.

Gage said changes are needed because Kansas schools are “facing some critical shortages,” especially in science and math instruction.

Taking Certification to the Extreme

There are at least two ways of responding to the need for quality teachers. One is to judge teachers based on how much their students learn throughout a school year. Another is to impose requirements concerning number of college credits that a teacher must take.

According to one education professor, one proposal for addressing a shortage in science teachers is simply wrong.

… one of the “solutions” for overcoming the “barriers to entering teaching” is to let a biology teacher add a chemistry endorsement by just taking the test…. Kansas has been late to see the teacher shortage. Nearly all other states got desperate years ago, and many have abandoned solid preparation for teachers. By letting teachers test out, they get rid of their teacher shortage on paper. But the next generations of students are stuck with teachers who don’t know how to do science in the classroom for the rest of their careers.

“Teachers who don’t know how to do science in the classroom” might make sense if we are allowing, say, a history teacher to test into a physics position. But with the example given–a biology teacher adding an endorsement for teaching chemistry–the argument does not appear to make sense. Doesn’t a biology teacher “do science?” Granted, it’s possible that a “methods of teaching chemistry” class might (or not) be useful to such a person. But there’s no guarantee, and a teacher with a track record should be given the benefit of the doubt.

As for dealing with the shortages of teachers in specific subjects, two recommendations: differential pay based on hard-to-staff fields, and merit pay so that people who excel can be rewarded for their performance, as is the case in the private sector.

(“LOWERING STANDARDS BAD WAY TO FILL TEACHING SPOTS,” Wichita Eagle, June 8, 2007)

The Arkansas City Traveller gives some background on the idea (State could ease teacher licensing, June 11).

TOPEKA — The state Board of Education plans to consider easing licensing requirements for teachers, making it easier for educators to get jobs in Kansas.

Some education officials say the changes are needed to remove barriers for getting a teaching license and could help address teacher shortages in areas such as math or science.

”What this does is give local districts more latitude in how they can fill openings,” said State Board Member Sue Gamble of Shawnee.

The board will hold a public hearing on the changes Tuesday and is scheduled to vote on the requirements Wednesday.

The changes would remove a requirement for out-of-state teachers, even those with years of experience, to have earned a 2.5 grade point average in college to be hired in Kansas. Teachers still would have to pass exams in those subjects to obtain a license.

”The GPA doesn’t tell us a whole lot,” said Martha Gage, director of teacher education and licensure for the Kansas Department of Education. ”It’s much better to take a look at performance and experience.”

The new policy would also allow a licensed teacher with an endorsement in one science subject to gain an additional endorsement by passing the state’s content exam.

For example, a licensed biology teacher could take the exam for physics or chemistry, both subjects with a shortage of teachers.

The Lawrence Journal World (Teacher licensing changes proposed) notes that the proposal has been under study for over a year.

Where Will all the Teachers Come From?

The McPherson Sentinel reviews some challenging numbers on teacher recruitment (“Recruitment, retention concerns for USD 418,” April 27).

– One out of three teachers in Kansas are 50 years old or older.

– “In the near future,” one district–Wichita 259–will require more new teachers in a year than are produced by all colleges in the state.

The McPherson district school board reviewed a video presentation that summarized some recent research. Among the points: teachers tend to stay around longer if they are given bonuses for superior performance.

Sounds like a move to merit pay to us. And none too soon.  If teachers expect to be professionals–and of course they should–they should be paid as professionals, not as people on a 1950s-era industrial union shop.

Governor Seblius: Pay is Not All That Matters

It’s almost an article of faith among the general population, or at least the political population, that teachers are underpaid. Governor Sebelius caught our attention by some recent comments on the subject of teacher retention:

U.S. Department of Education survey showed one-third of teachers quit due to poor conditions, Sebelius said. They decried the lack of support from administrators, restrictions on how they run classrooms and few professional development opportunities.

“Pay is a factor, sure, and could we provide more salary and benefits, absolutely, but a number of other factors are more important, not the least of which is educational leadership and support,” Sebelius said.

Sebelius called the national survey results “pretty alarming.” They showed schools have a nearly 17 percent turnover rate.

The governor is onto something here. Pay is one factor in determining a job’s attractiveness. Working conditions are another.  As it is, government-run education is subject to rolls of red tape and special pleading by insiders of various sorts and outside constituencies. Due to the “one size fits all” nature of government, innovation is stifled, and something as basic as teacher pay is subject to rules that hamper individual effort.

The introduction of merit pay, tied with individual student assessments, would make it clear that results, not institutional niceties, matter. Something like the “100 percent solution” ought to be tried in a district with courageous leadership. It’s time for some change.

Source: Gov. Sebelius says teachers need support, KC Community News, April 18

Retaining Teachers in KCK

The KCK school district says that it is having trouble keeping teachers:

The district not only finds its students leaving the district, but its highly qualified teachers are also leaving.

J.D. Rios, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the cause is the higher teacher salaries paid by competing school districts, most notably in Johnson County.

“We need not to look at just being competitive,” he said. “Our goal is to have the best, and we should pay for the best. We need to lead and compensate our teachers.”

Rios said the district asks for too much from the teachers compared to the actual salaries they get paid.

We don’t doubt that there are advantages–nonmonetary ones as well as higher pay–in Johnson County. So how can the district respond? A poor way would be to raise teacher pay statewide. That would do nothing to alleviate KCK’s comparative disadvantage.  And the district doesn’t have the self-taxing power of some JoCo districts.

So how about doing something different? Unleash the spirit of entrepreneurship. Enact merit pay and give school principals increased autonomy over the hiring, firing, and pay of teachers. That way, outstanding performance is rewarded. Cutting the red tape could in itself be something attractive to teachers.

Source: ” Teacher salaries, early childhood ed among priorities,” Kansas City Kansan, April 16, 2007.

Teacher Shortage? Use Merit Pay, Reduce Certification Headaches

The Kansas State Board of Education is looking at ways of retaining existing teachers and attracting new ones. Old ideas (pay everyone more, pay more for mentoring programs) are floated, as are missionary-style “come join us” proposals to entice middle school and high school students.

Left unsaid are two things that would recognize the value of teaching and make it more attractive as well: use merit pay so that teachers are paid according to how much they help students learn (rather than how long they stay on the job), and streamline the certification process so that mid-career professionals have less of a hurdle to join the ranks of teachers.

Meanwhile, the LJW says that “some districts are reaching beyond the country’s borders to countries such as Spain and India to recruit teachers to fill vacancies, although the Lawrence district has not done so.”

(Source: Kansas Acts on Teacher Shortage, Kansas City Star, January 8; Program Addresses Teacher Shortage, Lawrence Journal-World, January 9)

Kansas District Hires Personnel Firm to Manage Substitute Teaching Staff

Following the lead of 48 other states, Kansas has now started to use a personnel firm to manage the hiring and use of substitute teachers. Well, at least Eudora 491 is, on a trial basis. The contract, approved at a December board meeting, means that the district will rely on the Morgan Hunter Companies from February until May. Presumably, the district will evaluate the situation after that.

District administrators praise several benefits of the arrangement. It will mean increased work possibilities for retired teachers, who won’t run afoul of regulations restricting their work. It also means less paperwork for district administrative staff.

One of the largest commercial providers of teacher staffing is Kelly Educational Staffing, a division of Kelly Services.

Source: USD 491 to contract substitute service, December 28, 2006

Loan Forgiveness for Math and Science Teachers?

How can Kansas attract and retain math and science teachers? Some schools have gone overseas for teachers who are looking for higher pay and more opportunities. In this space before, we’ve mentioned that this just might be a clue that something needs to be done to make math and science teaching more attractive–and that “something” should include making it easier for mid-career professionals to take up teaching, as well as offer differential pay that takes into account the varying market demand for different subject areas.

The State Board of Education is going to talk about offering financial incentives, in the form of loan forgiveness.

Next week, the board will “vote on a loan forgiveness program to encourage students attending state universities to become teachers, especially in high need areas like science and math.”

Helping teachers repay college loans is a form of compensation, though we might prefer that the money be spent only on teachers in subject areas where there is a demonstrated problem in filling positions. (If hiring a history teacher is no challenge, for example, there should be no bonus.) Still, it’s a small start to recognizing teachers as individuals, not members of a union who need to be paid the same rate.

Source: Possible solution to teacher shortage, ABC 49 News, December 5.

Two Methods of Attracting Teachers

We can think of at least two ways of attracting teachers. One favors performance; the other does not.

Most non-unionized workers get evaluated on the strength of their performance. Even some unionized workers do. Teachers, on the other hand, are not. Tenure is a strong deterrent to teacher dismissal, and the pay scale is often based on years of service, not success in raising student performance.

Martin Frost, a retired member of Congress, continues the “No Child Left Behind punishes schools” theme. First, he laments the fact that a school may be placed on the “in need of improvement” list because of the poor performance of a subgroup of students. True enough; that’s the way the law is designed, though the only consequence he mentions–the shame of being labeled as such–does not strike us as being so terribly unfair that it merits changing the law.

But then he goes on to suggest that the standards of No Child Left Behind are detrimental to teacher recruitment and retention.

He says “There are two parts to the education equation: improving the quality of instruction and encouraging talented young people to pursue education as a career. Undermining school morale by imposing unrealistic and unfairly implemented standards will make it difficult to achieve the latter.”

We’re sympathetic to the argument that arbitrary standards of work can be a morale-buster to any conscientious worker. But if we’re concerned about teacher morale, shouldn’t we move to a system in which high achieving students are rewarded, and inferior teachers dismissed?

Source: Flawed No Child Left Behind, East Texas Review.

Wichita Goes Abroad Again

Wichita USD 259 goes abroad for math and science teachers … again. Why?

The district wants to hire 30 to 40 Filipinos to teach this fall; to date, 17 have already entered the classroom from the efforts in previous years.

Immigration is a vital part of the American experience, so we are not in the least motivated by any animus toward immigrants. Our concern is that this continual search abroad suggests that perhaps we ought to look at some reforms that have not gotten much play–teacher certification and pay.

You can see why Filipino teachers would want to come to the U.S. It’s a great country, the pay is going to be better, as are the opportunities. So we don’t begrudge them in the least.

Districts say that they must search abroad because they face looming waves of retirement, and they can’t fill the need by hiring Americans.

In other words, the job of teaching math and science in Kansas does not attract that many Kansans. Why not? Perhaps it’s because in general, would-be math and science don’t get paid as much as they could elsewhere. And that’s tied in with pay scales that don’t allow for market conditions such as teacher quality or school demand for a particular subject area, as well as onerous certification requirements for mid-career professionals.

Perhaps if lawmakers and school board members should look at opening up the job market, they don’t need to go oversees.

Source: Schools to Recruit Abroad for Teachers, Wichita Eagle, November 29.

Teachers Come from Spain

If you’re having a hard time finding workers, maybe you should reconsider your methods of findings them.

Barnes USD 223 and Marysville USD 364 have gone a long ways to recruit Spanish teachers. They’ve gone to Spain. The Marysville Advocate has a short profile of the two teachers, who are married to each other.

We don’t wish any ill will on the individuals involved. Foreign trade is good, and more people to the two teachers who are getting a chance to live in the U.S. for a while.

But maybe the difficulty in finding teachers is a wake-up call that we need changes in school staffing policies–things such as merit pay and alternative methods of certification.

Leavenworth Turns to Virtual School to Cope with Teacher Shortage

It’s a perennial theme in news stories about education: District X faces a shortage of teachers. The latest example comes from Leavenworth, which needs a physics teacher.

We were going to remind readers of the problems with teacher recruitment: lack of merit and differential pay, and the rigidity of the certification process.

But what is striking about this situation is what Pleasant Ridge High School is doing about its needs: it is turning to a company that operates a virtual charter school.

Says Andy Metsker, the principal of the school in the Easton district (USD 449), says “It’s not the best option. [Why not?-ed.] But at the same time, there are kids who are National Merit Scholars who are home-schooled and I’m sure some of them are on this.”

See. For some children this is what works for them. Schools need to embrace more ways to customize learning settings.

Foreign Teachers Start Life in Wichita

So how’s the experiment in hiring teachers from the Philippines working out for Wichita USD 259? The Eagle has a review.

They’re finding favorite spots (Old Town), foods (Krispey Kreme doughnuts), and discovering that American children are more outspoken than those in the Philippines.

We find this a curious development. We admire the sense of adventure and the courage exhibited by these additions to the teaching staff in Kansas. And district officials can be commended for doing the hard work of travelling around the globe to find new staff.

All the same, shouldn’t we be making it easier for talented, passionate, and interested American residents to take up teaching? Under current laws, Bill Gates couldn’t teach about computers, Warren Buffet couldn’t teach about business, and a college professor whose students may be just a year removed from earning a diploma can’t teach in high school.

Are Teachers Highly Qualified?

One of the repercussions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law is that states must develop plans to ensure a “highly qualified teacher” for each classroom.

The U.S. Department of Education reviewed state plans to ensure that every public school student have a “highly qualified teacher.”

USA Today sets the stage:

Under the No Child Left Behind law, states were supposed to have highly qualified teachers in every core academic class by the end of the last school year. None made it.
So the department said “try again.”

Under No Child Left Behind,

The law defines “highly qualified” teachers as those who have a bachelor’s degree, a state license and proven competency in every subject they teach. It is often regarded as a minimum qualification, because it requires teachers to know what they teach.

Four states, including Missouri, were told to try again … again. Kansas passed with flying colors, earning the highest grade, along with 8 other states.

The web site of ABC News provides a link to a large number of state plans, including that of Kansas.

For all the anguish given over to the state of science education, the percentage of science teachers deemed “not highly qualified” (13.1) matched that of math teachers. But it was less than percentage of “not highly qualified” teachers in foreign language (14.3), language arts (14.7), economics (17.1), and history (23.8).

On the other hand, the percentage of teachers “not fully qualified” was lower for elementary students (2.9), government (4.2) fine arts (9.9), and geography (10.6).

So what does all this mean? That Kansas got its ducks in a row. Good for it. On the other hand, is a subject matter degree actually essential, not for the law, but for good teaching? Bill Gates is a college dropout (albeit from Harvard); we suspect that he would have a thing or two to teach about math, information technology, or management.

SBOE District 7 Highlights Differences in Opinion

The McPherson Sentinel offers up a review of the State Board of Education primary race in district 7, between M.T. Liggett, Donna Viola, and Ken Willard, incumbent.

Among the topics: science standards, sex-ed requirements, department commissioner Bob Corkins, charter schools, and vouchers.

Viola’s opposition to charter school expansion is based on a preference for “local control.” But what could be more “local” than a parent? It’s time for charter schools to have an alternative to the local school board when it comes time to getting an authorization.

More Teachers, Please?

The Lawrence Journal-World says that Kansas Schools [Are] Low on Teachers. It cites a jobs fair in which job seekers were outnumbered by hiring managers.

The article isn’t all doom and gloom however; it notes that Kansas retains more teachers after five years than the national average.
What is not mentioned in the article are several steps that policy makers can do to make teaching more attractive:

– Introduce pay for performance, pay good teachers more, and streamline the process for dismissing poorly performing teachers. These steps will give potential teachers a signal that excellence will be rewarded.

– Provide a path for alternative methods of certification.

– Eliminate the certification requirement for certain mid-career and retired professionals.

– Pay teachers in high-demand subject areas more.

Some of the readers who make wrote in the comments section of the article point to another problem: lack of respect for teachers. That’s more of a cultural problem than anything else. Changing the delivery vehicle of education–more use of distance learning, and even more fundamental changes–could be helpful, too.