Is This Really a Surprise?

According to a recent report, California is facing a teacher shortage in the near future, as older teachers retire, and the number of new teachers getting credentialed continues to drop. With budget cuts increasing class sizes and decreasing the resources available for teacher, many of those near retirement are choosing to retire early. In fact “a $1,000 reduction per student in a district’s “other local revenue” – a source of funding that varies widely by district – was associated with about a 4 percent increase in the probability of educators retiring.”
In one sense the early retirements help the districts strapped budgets, since the teachers retiring have larger salaries than new hires, but it also robs the schools of a wealth of experience, which is far more valuable than “reformers” would have you believe, and with fewer people going into teaching will lead, before long, to a shortage of trained teachers.
And why would a young adult just beginning their career choose to spend an extra year, at least, getting a teaching credential when everything they see and hear in the media repeats the refrain that if students don’t do well in school we should fire their teachers? It has turned teaching into a high-pressure profession, without the accompanying high-pressure salary that would make it attractive.
The pressure to use high stakes testing as the sole measure of student learning, and then reward and punish teachers based on test scores serves neither the student nor the teacher. Standardized tests have their uses, but they are by no means complete measures, and are most useful when least consequential. When SAT scores became to most important factor in college admission it spawned a test-prep industry that distorted the results. There was always an argument that the SATs measured your ability to take the test more than your scholastic aptitude, but with all the test prep materials and courses it can be argued now that what it really measures is how much test prep your parents can afford. The result of this is that colleges now look at broader measures that just test scores. The “reform” movement is turning our elementary schools into test prep cram schools, where the only thing taught is how to pass the test.
Good teachers can make a difference, but poverty and parental involvement have far more to do with student success than whether the teacher is average or exceptional. Why would anyone consider entering a field where the biggest elements determining their “success” or “failure” are outside of their control? A field that is being given more and more responsibility and less and less respect.
In theory, as the teacher shortage develops, teachers should become more valuable, and therefore paid more, and with greater pay would come greater respect, since much of our culture respects only the ability to make money. But I don’t see that happening. As corporate, for profit, charter schools grow, they increase pressure not to pay teachers well, and spend money on students, which might lower profits, but to bring in non-credentialed teachers, and replace teachers with programed learning modules on computers. Non-profit private schools will continue to have real teachers, and art, and music, and teach all those things that aren’t on the standardized tests, just as they do now. And just as they do now, they will continue to cater to those who can afford them. The fight is not about how we will educate the children of the upper classes, but how we will educate everyone else. Will we educate, or train future workers, focus on developing a well-rounded human being, or only on providing that narrow skill set necessary for the 21st century equivalent of the assembly line?
This is the real issue in Chicago.
Will the teachers, through their union, be able to defend comprehensive education?
Around the turn of the last century, coal mines were horribly dangerous and deadly places, where the workers were disposable. Then the workers organized, and the power of the union made coal mines a great deal safer. Until mine owners broke the union in many places, and the companies could go back to killing workers with impunity — both through dramatic explosions and cave-ins that everybody watched while they were happening but lost interest in before any accountability could be demanded, and through the quiet, boring hazards such as black lung.
At the moment, teachers unions are defending education. The battle for reasonable compensation is a battle for respect. Class size and working conditions benefit the students as much as the teachers. Will the union successfully defend education? Or will the corporate, for profit, charter companies break the union, make teachers disposable, and quietly kill education.