Monday, August 10, 2015

Public Education: If You Raze It, They Will Not Come


At a recent fundraiser for my favorite animal shelter, I worked with a young and very personable lady who was seeking a starting position as an educator.  She had been out of the University of Illinois for nearly one year, and she was not discouraged about yet finding an entry-level position for this fall, at least not yet. 

She was working as a salesperson with a local retail chain in one of the large suburban malls, and she mused, “I can remain there if nothing happens for me this fall.  I have to, mostly because I have around $35,000 in loans I need to start paying back as soon as I can. Besides, I’m on commissions and I work well with clients and I can make plenty if I need to stay.”

Average starting salaries in Illinois for educators begin around $36,000; but for elementary teachers, that start point can be well below $30,000.  And for a position providing a gross $2500 per month, it could take her an additional ten years to pay off the debt at $250 per month (without interest…).  And then, there’s graduate school?

I asked, “Given the situation with public education here in Illinois, the new governor who is trying to undermine collective bargaining, a Tier II arrangement which shorts any real retirement and will probably face a legal test of federal retirement qualification, a continued search for cracks in the May 8th  Illinois Supreme Court decision on SB1…and that’s just a few…why would you consider teaching?”

“For the prestige?” she smiled wanly.

“Really, “ she continued, “because my parents were teachers, and I loved the idea of growing up part of an extended family, one always sharing ideas and insights, and a love of learning.  We’d eat dinners while talking about our day and their day.  It was inspirational.”  

She was delightful.  And sadly, she is perhaps exceptional.

Maybe following your bliss no longer assures anything?

The devastation of the Great Recession upon state coffers, the downturn in state’s support of public education, the loss of job security and retirement benefits, the public’s consideration of collective bargaining benefits as unfair and exorbitant, and the general/political willingness to blame the societal fallout of poverty on educators has produced a serious shortage of trained and ready educators.

Average college student loan debt upon graduation is up over 10%, nearly $30,00.  In Illinois, and our neighboring state Indiana, approximately 64% of our college graduates are carrying debt when they depart the campus. 

Adding the need to find a suitable position to repay that debt – and do it without starving – many of our brightest potential educators in science, math, and special education – are passing the schoolhouse door and going directly into the private sector, where starting salaries begin at between $5000 and $10,000 more annually. 
Indiana, our neighbor state, and their freeze on property taxers as well as past-Governor Mitch Daniel’s successful war on collective bargaining, has left the Hoosier state short: “The crop of first-year teachers across Indiana decreased by almost a fifth in the past five years, leaving school districts hard-pressed to find educators as a new school year begins.”
According to the Indianapolis Star, “In some cases, schools will have to start the year with substitute teachers to temporarily fill vacancies until they find a suitable candidate. In many other instances, experts say, schools have to be less choosy when hiring teachers — and that can affect the quality of instruction.
“At Ball State University, enrollment in elementary and kindergarten teacher-preparation programs has fallen 45 percent in the past decade. Purdue University also reported a decrease in teaching majors.
“Multiple factors, including poor starting salaries and a hostile teaching climate, have driven people away from the profession, said Teresa Taber Doughty, associate dean for learning in Purdue’s College of Education.
 “The pervasive negativity in public forums has resulted in teachers and family members actively dissuading high school students from pursuing careers in teaching,” she said. “Additionally, starting salaries are not competitive when compared to other professions.”
“In Indiana, the average starting salary for a new teacher graduating from Purdue with a bachelor’s degree is $32,596 per year.”
Entire article: Click Here

The Indiana General Assembly, led by Republican Committee Education Chairman Robert Behning believes that a serious study should begin at once to identify the problem.  A study might not be quite enough. 
Meanwhile, public schools find themselves using substitutes in place of hires in the upcoming fall as they districts scramble to find qualified candidates. 
In fact, a recent article by Motoko Rich in the New York Times indicates the same issues of a complete lack of qualified candidates for teaching positions on the national level.  Because of the scarcity of candidates, many human resource administrators across the nation are finding themselves having to hire unqualified, inexperienced, and even un-credentialed candidates to fill the growing gaps. 
“Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.
“At the same time, a growing number of English-language learners are entering public schools, yet it is increasingly difficult to find bilingual teachers. So schools are looking for applicants everywhere they can — whether out of state or out of country — and wooing candidates earlier and quicker.
“Some are even asking prospective teachers to train on the job, hiring novices still studying for their teaching credentials, with little, if any, classroom experience.”
California is issuing this year fewer than 15,000 new teaching credentials, but the state must fill nearly 22,000 open positions. 
“But educators say that during the recession and its aftermath prospective teachers became wary of accumulating debt or training for jobs that might not exist. As the economy has recovered, college graduates have more employment options with better pay and a more glamorous image, like in a rebounding technology sector.
In California, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by more than 55 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Nationally, the drop was 30 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to federal data. Alternative programs like Teach for America, which will place about 4,000 teachers in schools across the country this fall, have also experienced recruitment problems.
The entire article is available here: 

Back again in Indiana, a model state for our new Governor Rauner, the associate dean for learning at Purdue’s College of Education warned that “’Shoring up the supply of teachers will depend on how much value society places on the teaching profession.  If the financial and social issues that plague the profession continue to be a problem, the population of teachers will remain at a critical point.
“Sadly, current teachers don’t feel valued for the work they do,” Associate Dean Taber Doughty said. “To reverse this national trend, we need to recognize the value of teachers and raise the profile of the profession.”
Indeed we do, Governor Rauner.


  1. Attila, the Republican, with help from Genghis, the Democrat, has really done a job on education and civilization already. Unless civilization catches its breath, they'll destroy everything from education to Planet Earth.

  2. I have read that another massive teacher shortage is starting to happen. Many teachers are retiring as soon as they can, many younger teachers are finding better jobs in the private sector, and far fewer students are going into teaching.