How Charter Schools Affect The Teacher Shortage

Charter Schools are in the unique position of being “publicly funded but can be privately operated.”  This takes two of the biggest advantages of public and private education and merges them together, creating a system that traditional public schools aren’t able to compete with.  The purpose of this post will be to explain how this merger of advantages creates an imbalance that further contributes to the teacher shortage.

Charter Schools address some of the causes of the teacher shortage, namely the lack of respect and freedom for teachers to practice their craft—problems that aren’t easy for traditional schools to fix.  According to the San Diego Tribune, “Changing trends that favor charter schools reflect today’s more consumer-oriented parents, who want choices beyond the neighborhood school or the district magnet program.”  Teachers take advantage of this benefit as well,  seeing Charter Schools with philosophies that more match their individual style as a welcome alternative to traditional public schools, but the caveat here is that qualified teachers will leave the traditional schools in favor of their preferred Charter.

Discovery Charter School in Campbell, California presents a specific example of this alternative.  From their home page, “Discovery asks families to make a commitment to the Discovery community and their child to volunteer in the school on a regular basis.”  Schools that require parent assistance in class are very appealing to teachers as well as to those parents that are able to help in their children’s classroom, but this is very difficult for parents who work full time, and nearly impossible for poorer parents who have to work multiple jobs in order to afford living in the area.  Parents that can’t manage to meet this requirement, or any number of other requirements that Charter Schools impose must take their children to traditional public schools.  Charters are also in the unique position of being able to deny enrollment to children for any number of reasons, and a recent UCLA study has found that:

“More than 500 charter schools suspended black students at a rate that was at least 10 percentage points higher than the rate for white students. And moreover, 1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than for students without disabilities.  The most alarming finding, the research points out, is that 235 charter schools suspended more than 50 percent of their enrolled students with disabilities.”

The ability to pull in the best students and the best teachers is obviously very appealing to both teachers and parents, but it drives teachers away from traditional public schools by making them the dumping ground for the poor, the disabled, those of color, and non-English speakers.Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 8.28.32 AM.png

When a Charter School is established in an area, it draws funding away from that area’s other public schools.  From the LA Times, “Charters’ rapid growth — to about 101,000 students in L.A. — is responsible for about half of a precipitous drop in district enrollment and the funding that comes with it.”  The emergence of charter schools means a drop in funding for local schools in districts, which means that the districts have to make do with less—leading to larger class sizes, less funding for special education, and no room for wage teacher wage growth.  This is not an ideal state for teachers to be in, and in their frustration, they either flee to the alternative schools, or leave teaching altogether.

Charter Schools seem to be an appealing alternative, but the problem is their appeal.  They contribute to the teacher shortage by using the freedom of a private model, which draws talented teachers away from traditional public schools, thereby weakening them.

What are the Solutions to the Teacher Shortage Problem?

One of my last posts was dedicated to some of the more prominent causes of the teacher shortage, and now that the causes are understood, this post is dedicated to some of the solutions that have been put forth by lawmakers towards addressing this problem.

Lawmakers are attempting to curtail the problem of low teacher recruitment by offering financial incentives.  These include California Senate Bill 62, which seeks to aid teachers with “financial assistance to encourage them to complete postsecondary education programs leading to teaching credentials.” This aid would help qualifying teachers to pay their student debt, an factor which has been discouraging people from entering the profession.

School districts are also doing their part to lower the financial burden on teachers by providing affordable housing for their teachers.  One San Francisco school district official is quoted as saying that funding “has been earmarked for construction of up to 100 new apartments on surplus land owned by the San Francisco Unified School District. The units would be rented at below-market rates to the district’s 3,500 teachers and 1,600 classroom aides, who also would be eligible for new rental housing allowances and home down payment loans aimed at reducing living costs for another 300 educators.”  This is especially necessary since the cost of living in the San Francisco area is among the highest in the nation.  School districts realize that they need to take drastic measures in order to assure that the quality of their schools remains intact, and programs like this not only serve to stop the hemorrhaging of qualified teachers, they serve as attractors to young people who are potential teachers.

Although teaching is still not a lucrative profession, wages for teachers are back on the rise from their recession era lows. An article from the Fresno Bee states that “from 2009 to 2013, in the midst of government cutbacks and furloughs tied to the recession, average, inflation-adjusted teacher pay in California fell by about 5 percent. It rose slightly during the 2014 school year, and now sits about where it was in 2009.”  This is a good sign, although pay may be rising significantly in some districts, but not in others, because the same article goes on to say that “five school districts, most in the Bay Area, pay their teachers, on average, more than $100,000 – likely still not enough to afford to purchase a home in their communities. At least 10 school districts in rural areas pay their teachers, on average, less than $45,000 annually.”  This may have something to do with how education is funded, because a large chunk of the funding comes from local property taxes, which means that more affluent areas are likely to have the money to pay their teachers more, while poorer areas nearby will struggle to match those wages.

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School districts and lawmakers are able to address the financial problems faced in the education system, but the other problems tend to be a little more complicated.  An article from the Desert Sun quotes one Southern California Teachers’ Association President as saying “Good salary, health benefits, the workload- that all adds up to it- but if you were to treat teachers with respect, allow them to collaborate, leave them alone in their classroom to do what they love, they would do it for nothing.”  The public model of education may not be able to address these fundamental problems of respect and freedom in the teaching profession.  But what other models exist that can address these problems? This will be explored next when we talk about Charter Schools.

What are the Causes of the Teacher Shortage?

As we’ve been discussing, teachers are in short supply.  Why is this happening? This post will endeavor to enumerate the causes for the teacher shortage.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 11.50.39 AM.pngA major contributing factor to the teacher shortage is the fact that those entering the teaching profession don’t get paid as well as other graduates out of college.  According to the National Education Association, starting salary for a teacher in California is $41,131, and this amount is in the top ten nationwide.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers, a group that tracks employment trends of college graduates, says that starting salaries  for the Class of 2014 were at $48,707.  Potential teachers pay attention to what kind of salaries they’ll be getting, and these low numbers deter them from entering teaching programs.Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 11.53.46 AM.png

In the United States, teachers don’t get enough respect.  According to a 2013 Varkey Foundation survey, which asks citizens of a country to rank teachers against other professions and then normalizes the data on an interval level from 1-100 (think of this as a likability scale), the United States gives its teachers a 38.4.  In the same report, a plurality of respondents in the United States said they thought of teachers as being closest to librarians (as opposed to doctors, nurses, social workers, or politicians).  When educators are compared to a profession that has been more or less obsolete for the past twenty years, I think this is indicative of the lack of respect that they feel.  When people consider a career, they may remember the old adage, “those that can’t do, teach,” and so those that want to be thought of as successes attempt to go into a different profession.  This phrase not only underscores the lack of respect felt by teachers, but also creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where the profession is populated by those who couldn’t do anything else.

Teaching is becoming an increasingly stressful profession full of uncertainty.  After the 2008 economic recession, teachers were getting pink slips every year, meaning that they didn’t know if they’d be hired back on to work the following year.  According to the New York Times, “educators say that during the recession and its aftermath prospective teachers became wary of accumulating debt or training for jobs that might not exist.”  This uncertainty lead to teachers leaving the profession, and potential teachers going elsewhere for employment.

Teachers don’t feel like they’re given the time to teach.  Standardized testing has become the focus of education, because evaluations determine the quality of education that children are receiving.  This is causing a backlash that the National education Association says is causing teachers to leave the profession.  The article says that “Fifty-two percent of teachers surveyed said they spend too much time on testing and test prep. The average teacher now reports spending about 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks” and “According to the NEA survey, a majority of teachers reported feeling considerable pressure to improve test scores. 72 percent replied that they felt “moderate” or “extreme” pressure from both school and district administrators.”

How can these problems be addressed?  What are the solutions?