September 26, 2012
“How do I attract and keep the best teachers?” the school administrator asked me.
“I’m losing my best teachers,” another said.
The state’s school superintendents recently gathered for their state convention. I spoke to their convention and listened to their concerns during a break in the action.
Many superintendents are concerned about the upcoming state budget. They told me if the state continues to short-change schools of needed cash, our schools will struggle to attract and retain qualified teachers.
Already the state has experienced a significant loss of public school teachers. The Department of Public Instruction reported that Wisconsin’s 424 school districts lost a total of 1446 teachers. According to the Associated Press, Wisconsin had twice as many teachers retire in the first half of 2012 as compared to prior years.
With the majority of the schools’ budget going to pay professionals, short-changing school budgets means direct cuts to teacher pay and benefits. This new round of cuts comes on the heels of many years of stagnant salaries and recent big cuts in benefits.
Superintendents expressed concern about effective teacher evaluations. New ‘reforms’ require school districts to establish a continuous system of educator evaluations using multiple measures across two main areas: educator practice and student outcomes.
But short staffing doesn’t allow the time needed to properly evaluate staff.
“We are now expected to evaluate each teacher three times a year,” a rural administrator told me. “While this is a well-intentioned requirement, it just doesn’t recognize the reality of the leaner administration of most districts.”
Most administrators with whom I spoke saw the exodus of qualified teaching staff as their biggest challenge. Much of the retention crisis is related to low morale amidst deep budget cuts.
Recently State Superintendent Tony Evers echoed this concern in his State of Education address, “I’ve heard from too many educators who feel undervalued and under attack.” He shared some stories of teachers struggling with a culture that undervalues their work and blames them for state budget woes. One woman broke down in tears when Mr. Evers asked what advice she would give an aspiring educator.
“These teachers, like every teacher, didn’t choose this profession for the pay or benefits, though they rightfully expect to make enough to raise a family like any professional does,” Evers said. “They chose this profession, like I did, because they love kids, they want to inspire a love of learning, they want to change lives.”
“Every citizen in Wisconsin should be alarmed when teachers don’t feel valued and respected by their communities and their state. No other profession deserves more respect. No other profession is more responsible for securing our economic future,” Evers told the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda.
“We will respect our teachers: write that 100 times,” wrote Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Mr. Tucker argues the best and brightest must become teachers. “There’s only one way to catch up to the countries that are beating the pants off us in the world’s education sweepstakes: ensure that every student in the country has a first-rate teacher. That is, in fact, the strategy that the top performing countries have been using.”
These countries, Mr. Tucker writes, filled their schools with top-notch teachers by greatly raising the standards to get into teacher education programs (sometimes accepting only 1 out of every 8 applications); by requiring additional time for teachers to master the specific subjects they will teach; by giving teachers research skills so they become a part of improving curriculum and instruction and by mastering the subjects they will teach.
And, he writes, “of course they have to pay their teachers well.”
In most countries where students perform well, teachers are paid what beginning engineers are paid. “In the United States,” Tucker writes, “a large fraction of beginning teachers are paid a wage that doesn’t permit them to support a small family above the poverty line.”
“If we put our shoulder to the wheel to fill our schools with great teachers, our children will once again top the world’s education league tables.”