Emergency Shortage of (Common Sense in the Hiring of) Teachers

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective carries an article of mine with a headline I’m particularly proud of: “Teacher Hiring Devastated by Emergency ‘Common Sense Shortage'”:

New moons cause teacher shortages because teachers have accidents driving in the dark without moonlight. Full moons cause teacher shortages because teachers become werewolves.

Claims about the causes are always changing, tailored to whatever is in the news. The claim that there’s an urgent, emergency shortage that we need to address right now never goes away.

News reports about lots of “emergency certifications” in Oklahoma are misleading:

These exceptions are being described as “emergency” certifications. This term has been adopted not only by the old guard but by many others, including some of their critics. I suspect it comes into wide use not only because the old guard and the click-addicted media benefit from public hysteria, but also because the schools seeking permission to make these hires think they’re more likely to get it if their need is described as an emergency. However, the state refers to these simply as “exceptions” to the standard certification requirements. This more neutral description might permit a more careful analysis…

If these exceptions are evidence of a problem, the obvious thing to do is target our response to the particular localities and disciplines where the overwhelming majority of the exceptions are being granted. That way Oklahoma can solve the problem it actually has, not some other, imaginary problem.

Ha, ha! Just kidding. The obvious thing to do is raise teacher salaries across the board, shut down accountability systems statewide, and give the old guard all the other things it wants. Such measures will have only a very indirect effect on the localized and specialized areas where certification exceptions are being granted. But that’s not what teacher shortage hysteria is ever about.

PS: Special guest appearance by Matt Ladner and his Brookings “Super Chart!”

Please help us address our emergency shortage of blog comments by leaving your thoughts below!

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8 Responses to Emergency Shortage of (Common Sense in the Hiring of) Teachers

  1. matthewladner says:

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

  2. Great article. Thanks.
    (Greg): “If these requirements are educationally useless, why do we have them? Because a lot of people make money off them…”
    Also, teacher credential requirements maintain the mystique of the trained educator on which the current institutional structure depends.

  3. Greg, YUP… follow the money. State makes $$$ on teachers who need continuing “whatever”. Colleges whether physical or online are guaranteed a continuing supply of customers. …. It seems your data indicates that student learning is largely not effected by this “ongoing required improvement”.

    I could argue that these requirements may be harmful in some cases as a teacher may have less time to devote to the job of teaching because of these requirements.

  4. There has been a teacher shortage in high school math, science, and computer science for decades. Also in most foreign language teaching and Special Education. There is NO teacher shortage in early childhood or elementary school education. Our teacher colleges produce far more teachers for students in K-8 than there are openings. A prospective teacher for K-8 who can’t pass a PRAXIS test shouldn’t be a teacher.

    • Greg Forster says:

      The unions benefit from uniform hiring and pay standards, which require us to pay an English teacher the same as a physics teacher. Hence the latter are harder to hire.

      Interestingly, the exceptions to certification requirements in Oklahoma that are discussed in my article are not, as one might expect, concentrated in disciplines like the natural sciences where union rules make hiring harder. This suggests the hiring exceptions are not being used by schools in a systematic way to ease the labor market burden created by union rules. Perhaps they could be!

      • Union hiring rules were NOT the problem when I used to look at the numbers in secondary education programs, yearly (1999-2005). Hiring wasn’t the problem. The shortage was in the ed schools themselves. They didn’t produce many potential high school math or science teachers, and many of the prospective high school science teachers (to judge by the numbers who took the licensure tests in science) didn’t pass the tests. The licensure tests were not at the college level, either. They were at the high school level. I still don’t understand why a supposed physics (geology, chemistry too) major can’t pass a high school-level licensure test in physics (created by experienced physics teachers, primarily).

        To cope with the shortage of competent high school science teachers, some U’s (UT-Austin was one) tried to encourage prospective undergrad science majors to consider teaching after getting college diploma, with bonuses or other perks. This approach helped to get more competent science teachers into K-12 for 2-3 years, but that was about all. The problem is not a union issue. Something needs to be done about advanced math/science coursework in high school. Maybe, as in many European countries, put the training programs under the academic departments (i.e., don’t keep them in ed schools) and let these depts figure out how to staff these courses with competent teachers.

      • Greg Forster says:

        To say that the problem is that education schools don’t produce enough teachers in those fields is not an answer but another way of stating the question. Why would people who have the aptitudes and inclinations that might incline them to be math or science teachers be so much less likely to go into teaching as a career? The fact that you were able to attract more into those fields by offering “bonuses or other perks” indicates that one important cause of the problem is the pay uniformity enforced by unions.

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