Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hard Rain's Gonna Fall - Teacher Shortages on the Way

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Unsettling observations arrived in an email from Illinois TRS Annuitant Trustee Bob Lyons in the last few days.  I am not sure if you received it or not – but it was one small spate in a torrential confluence of disturbing educational news for our state and for the nation overall.

In Illinois, young and aspiring teachers face not only the mountainous ascent of learning to teach in today’s data-driven assessment environment but also to withstand a losing fiscal future forcing them to pay more into an underfunded system and later be punished after retiring for meeting their Tier II requirements.

 If you’re not a teacher or if you were lucky enough to avoid being hired as an Illinois educator after January 1, 2011, Tier II was the result of a bill passed quickly by the Illinois General Assembly to alleviate the coming wrath of credit rating companies by showing the state could muster together $billions of future money. 

On the backs of future employees.

The bill – PA 96-0889 – provides no compounded cost-of-living benefits for retirees, increases age for retirement qualifications, punishes severely those who do retire earlier despite completed service, requires personal contributions to retirement beyond what is called for in social security, and caps the educator’s final payout at approximately $109,000 regardless of final salary – which ignores the 75% offered Tier I. 

In very short order, we citizens of Illinois will face the issue of whether the state of Illinois meets federal standards in meeting its “safe haven” for federal employer tax benefits after shorting the state employees. 

In other words, Illinois makes a significantly lesser payment to the state workers’ retirement system than it would need to with Social Security because it meets – or used to – federal thresholds in eventual pension obligations; on the other hand, now Tier II employees pay more and get less than the expected levels.

The General Assembly shirked its first duty to fund the pensions, then put it on someone else, and now may be called into question – and they are we. 

According to Bob Lyons, this may be a factor (among others) in a disturbing trend in Illinois among the pool of potential and able educators.

Wednesday we learned from our actuaries based on their experience review that they assume that only 37% of our 25 year old teachers will retire from teaching in our state.  It would be expected that only a couple percent will die or be disabled before they can retire, so the great majority that will leave will either quit all together, be dismissed, or transfer to another state. About 63% will never see a monthly retirement check.” 

This is a 28% increase in the usual number of nearly half of all starting teachers leaving before the first five years – before Tier II.

 Mr. Lyons ends his note by lamenting, “In Illinois today we can only expect a little more than one-third of our new teachers will have a full career in education in our state.  That is more than sad, it is a travesty.”

Bob is spot on; indeed, his observations identify a problem extending beyond the state of Illinois.

While Indiana may post billboards on the highways asking companies to come to Indiana if the are “Illinoyed,” they also are posting for anyone in our state or elsewhere to come fill their desperately expanding teacher shortage.  A decade of their own Turnaround Agenda has not helped the dynamic of education in our neighboring state much at all.  In fact, there was a nearly 50% drop in educators with educational licenses renewing in the last four years.  Also, nearly a 20% decline in new teachers coming in during the same period. 

In a recent article in the Washington Post, education columnist Valerie Strauss warned of a significant across-the-nation shortage of able teachers.  Arizona is worried about the state’s potential to “ensure economic prosperity for its citizens and create the workforce of tomorrow.”  New York, Illinois, Nevada, California, and many more less-populated states face shortages generally or in specific disciplines..

And, while the educational workforces in Illinois and other states face the national/federal legislations which have wrought a combination of under-resourced public schools, a preferential treatment for development of private or charter school alternatives, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods based on testing assessments, an exponential increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy – the state of Illinois has added Tier II to make being an educator just that much more punishing a profession.

Mr. Lyons referred to the chicanery of such a “travesty,” and he would be right.  Tier II is one of the greatest flim-flams created by a sitting group of lawyers in Springfield. 

On the other hand, it is a much more personal and individual tragedy for those who meant to give themselves in a chance of making a difference, of touching young people, of channeling their strengths to greater gifts, which would in turn make a difference for all of us. 

A recent post by an educator who had herself had quite enough of this New Metric World reminded me of how fortunate I was for the mentoring, the collegiality, the fellowship of my own professional life before the advent of NCLB and RTTP. 
“So why did I leave? Clearly, it means a lot to me to be a teacher. People assume that maybe the kids were too much, or the parents were a lot, or the pay was too low, or any number of reasons that have been trivialized on memes and complained about on Facebook. Taking a hiatus from teaching didn’t have anything to do with any of those reasons.
“Children are the best part of teaching; they are hilarious, spirited, adventuresome, silly, loving and grateful! Teaching a child something and when you see them put it all together to take ownership of the learning, is incredible. It’s more than just seeing they understand how to add fractions, it’s witnessing the confidence they gain from knowing they CAN do it. They learn something about themselves, that is what’s important.”
My own teaching alma mater has recently dropped from the 19 to 24 in the Tribune’s state of Illinois ACT preparedness tally.  Pity the poor teachers who slaved away at Mastery Concepts and didn’t meet requirements there.   And yet, when I look over the lists of top schools it is always the same story, isn’t it?  If it’s not the Winnetka’s, or Hinsdale’s, or the Western Springs’ that I would love to afford to live in, it’s the magnates or Payton Academy’s I’d love to send my kids to (or be able to afford to gift a $million(s) to get him or her in).  Economics matters. Doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, Arne Duncan is on his way home.  Sweet Home Chicago. 
Having finished his stint as Education Secretary and power-forward for the President, he was described by Obama as the man who has done “more to bring our education system, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 21st century than anyone else.”  If you do not remember, Duncan succeeded Ron Huberman in Chicago and was appointed head of CPS by Richard Daley, after he failed in saving a lower-performing school and re-opening it with an investment banker as a charter school. 
The President cajoled that Arne was not fast enough to be a player on his pick-up games; more importantly, he was not really ever qualified to be a leader in education.  Anyone who questioned his close adoration of corporate testing was considered a “white suburban soccer mom.”  Those who struggled to navigate the byzantine experimental methodologies of Pearson Testing Corporation were considered without “the grit” necessary to succeed. 
On the national level, the National Education Association called for and received a vote of no confidence for Duncan, and the American Federation of Teachers called for his own dismissal if his plans did not indicate any improvements in the years 2015-12015.  
Secretary Duncan will return to Chicago where his children attend private school. But the Secretary can be assured he has indeed made a difference.
The solitary reason that I chose to leave teaching has to do with the politicized environment of education. People may wonder what politics have to do with teaching, and the answer is everything. When policies are made, the impacts come into our lives and change them drastically. Over the past few years, there has been widespread “educational reform.”  These reforms have increased the importance of spreadsheets, columns of data, evaluations by inexperienced observers, and the accounting of data in every teacher’s life. The focus has gone away from people; students, parents, teachers, staff, volunteers, and onto data. The most important elements of teaching cannot be quantified onto a spreadsheet and put into a power point. When data is given importance above all else, time and resources are directed as such. (Elona Schreiner)
Elona Schreiner writes about her decision to leave the profession on a very personal and painful level.   “It has been years, YEARS, since I was in a building inservice that was about connecting with kids, communicating with parents, designing meaningful anti-bullying lessons, incorporating literature into math lessons or any topic other than data collection, data presentation, data comparison, state testing and teacher evaluations.”
Diane Ravitch, former assistant of secretary of education perceives a deeper and longer lasting issue:  “This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.
“It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan's policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next president and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation's public education system from the damage done by Race to the Top. We need leadership that believes in the joy of learning and in equality of educational opportunity. We have not had either for 15 years.”
The other evening I had the pleasure of listening to David Sedaris as he explained how he had tried to enlighten people of Europe or other continents understand what is happening politically in America.  “Who is this Donald Trump guy and will he be President?” they had asked him in Sweden.  Sedaris had replied that Trump was so cartoonish he’d “likely run with a VP choice of the Hamburglar.”  Then, he was faced with the dilemma of trying to explain who or what the Hamburglar was or is. 
It was funny, but so far in the pathetic presidential television debates no one has asked the question of education and the questionable corporate influence on children to any front-runners.  Clinton?  Carson? Rubio? Sanders?
Who would Ravitch trust?
And, often, I worry that the current parents of children in schools adhering to this brave new faith in common core and testing – even one big test – don’t remember what they’re individual children are losing.

It’s future lives that are being burgled.
For the teachers?  Their futures are being rived by Tier II and minimized by uniformity.

1 comment:

  1. Sigh......
    No state should be helping set up public/private for-profit schools with taxpayer money.