The Eternal Teacher Shortage

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Oklahoman carries my article on how a century’s worth of headlines in the Oklahoman (formerly the Daily Oklahoman) have kept on telling us over and over again about a dire teacher shortage:

Nor was this limited to 1919. Examples abound in succeeding decades. “State Feeling Sharp Teacher Pinch Again” ran a headline in 1964, for example. That story said shortages happened only occasionally, but the paper ran similar headlines in 1966, 1969 and 1970.

The “dire teacher shortage” story appeals not only to readers who are teachers and their families (a fairly large constituency) but to any reader who likes a good underdog-versus-huge-uncaring-system story.

But journalists ought to be exercising a little more critical thought. Reviewing more recent coverage in Oklahoma, I point out:

The coverage did not raise obvious questions like: If the huge, indiscriminate across-the-board pay raise that was sold as necessary to recruit teachers in fact had little effect on recruitment, why did we enact it?

Or: Shouldn’t we tear down the artificial barriers to entry that keep people out of the teaching profession, like useless certification requirements that have consistently failed to show any connection to classroom outcomes?

Or: Shouldn’t we reform the pay scales and contract provisions that prevent us from targeting the best teachers for recruitment and retention?

No, the implicit takeaway is always more, more, more indiscriminate spending, without systemic reform.

I’d like to thank the Oklahoman for being such a good sport and running this!

Let me know what you think.

6 Responses to The Eternal Teacher Shortage

  1. Michael F. Shaughnessy says:

    There is somewhat of a ” dire ” teacher shortage—-but instead of looking at global generalizations- we need to look at specifics—there may be a math/science teacher shortage, there may be a foreign language teacher shortage and there sure as heck is a special education teacher shortage. Students today- are more specific as to the grade and subject they want to teach and are hesitant about committing to teaching on a waiver or out of subject.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Solution: indiscriminate across-the-board pay raise with no reform of systemic flaws that create specialized shortages, followed by another round of complaints about the shortages, then another indiscriminate across-the-board pay raise, etc. Repeat until Jesus comes back.

      • Michael F. Shaughnessy says:

        Sorry solution- but hopefully we can have a cordial congenial discussion about this—Why SHOULD a 12th grade physics or Calculus teacher be paid the same as a kindergarten teacher? And an art or music teacher be paid the same as a math or science teacher. As usual, we really have some disparities as to how well teachers are paid—and currently we probably should look at SOME teachers who have 5-10 students with varying degrees of special needs in their classes- should they be paid more than a teacher who, for whatever reason, has no kids with special needs. Anyway, I think some of these issues bear discussion- at least in my humble opinion.

      • Greg Forster says:

        That’s exactly my point. Contract provisions demanded by teacher unions force all teachers into a single salary structure, and must continue to do so as long as teachers are unionized, but we are not allowed to talk about this. Instead we have the endless cycle of indiscriminate across the board raises, followed by complaints about problems that can’t be solved without systemic reforms, followed by indiscriminate across the board raises, etc.

      • Michael Shaughnessy says:

        Thanks for your clarification and thoughts—at some point we should discuss teacher’s unions—as I think they have really failed teachers—but that is a discussion for another day !

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