Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Real Reasons for the Louisiana Teacher Shortage

State education officials are now alarmed about the growing teacher shortage in Louisiana. What are the causes of the decline in certified teachers, and how can we fix it?
I would hazard a guess that most legislators have no clue that they have been primarily responsible for the teacher shortage in Louisiana. So they are looking for solutions in areas that may not help alleviate the problem.

Here are the usual reasons given for the Louisiana teacher shortage and how to cure it: Sure, teacher salaries are too low and a big boost in teacher salaries in Louisiana would get a few more young people to choose teaching. Unfortunately, the Republicans in the legislature are too tight fisted to allow more than a measly $1,000 raise proposed by Governor Edwards for next year (and that is still not a sure thing). Sure, if the State were to drop standards for teacher certification as is being proposed by the LDOE and some superintendents, that will draw more warm bodies into the teaching field. Maybe providing extra pay for teachers in shortage fields such as math, ELA, science and special education would add a few more desperate workers in those areas.

Those are the quick fixes being considered by the legislature in HB 310. But the real problem causing the present teacher shortage can be summarized with the title of the Aretha Franklin song: R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Unfortunately respect is the last thing the reformers and self appointed bosses of public education are willing to give.
For 16 years now, the reformers have operated on the assumption that the teaching profession is failing and deserves little respect. The power brokers believed they could fix the profession by putting it under the control of a bunch of "elite non-educators" who would demand better performance or else!
Starting in 2004, laws were passed that would allow the state to take over so called failing schools where student performance was low based on state standardized test scores and turn them over to be operated by individuals who would focus strictly on results. Many state regulations would be dropped, including the requirement of using certified teachers as long as student test scores were greatly improved. Charter schools run by entrepreneurs, instead of educators, would take over the failing schools and start turning out students who would be "college ready". The Recovery District charter schools got many of their teachers from Teach For America, an organization that gives "high status" graduates from other fields a quickie 5 week course in teaching and puts then to work in the charter schools raising student test scores. Also, in 2010 a law was passed that would base half of a teacher's evaluation on the average test performance of her/his students. The purpose was to force teachers to focus on test scores as a one-dimensional result.
Governor Jindal and John White brought education reform on steroids
Acts I and II of 2012 implemented radical changes in teacher management designed to make all teacher employment decisions based on student test scores. With these laws, the Jindal Administration planned to remove "outmoded" teacher protections such as tenure, seniority, and automatic step salary increases and add merit pay. This would be done by implementing a draconian system of teacher evaluation and tenure cancellation often based on unstable student test scores, the elimination of seniority rights, and the destruction of the automatic step increases for teachers. John White, the Jindal selected state superintendent, testified before the legislature that there was no evidence that tenure and teacher experience made a difference in student performance. There should be no salary credit given to teachers who had shown loyalty by staying true to their profession and their local school system. The ideal would be to pay each teacher a salary and benefits based on student test scores. The author of the new legislation, Rep. Steve Carter,  told a story about how he had visited a school with a truly high performing teacher who told him she wished she could just have the opportunity to teach all the students in her school that were being underserved by lazy or incompetent teachers. The legislature relied on this dubious "evidence" instead of real evidence for the reforms.
Who really controls public education?
Unlike other professions such as doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, nursing, and even contractors that have their own Boards comprised of elected members of the profession, that set standards and rule on professional matters, teacher standards are set by lay people who may have no credentials in the profession. Our State Superintendent of Education is not required to be a professional educator. The last State Superintendent of Education before John White was an attorney who had no education credentials and who had never served as a teacher. John White had a non-education degree and got a couple of years of teaching based on 5 weeks of TFA training. Later he obtained some questionable credentials from The Broad Academy which created itself as a training program for education administrators who would help spread the current principles of education reform.
The lobbying group that took control of our public schools 
In Louisiana, the real power over public education is wielded by the lobbying group, The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). This a group that was originally formed in the 1960s to weaken labor unions in Louisiana by passing the Right to Work law and other laws restricting worker's rights. Once LABI got through crushing labor unions and holding down the minimum wage law close to starvation levels, it turned its attention to public education. Along with super rich out-of-state interests such as The Walton Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and individuals such as Michael Bloomberg from New York, LABI helped Governor Jindal to pass his punitive education reform laws in 2012 and to elect the majority of BESE members to enforce these laws. Those are the laws mentioned above that destroyed teacher seniority rights, greatly weakened teacher tenure, and established a seriously defective teacher merit pay system. Jindal also added a voucher system allowing public education funds to be spent on private schools and greatly expanded charter schools with little accountability.

Generous campaign contributions to legislators from big business and the charter industry keeps these influence groups in charge of education.
Teachers were systematically shut out of the decision making process on school reform.
 On the day the two major bills were heard in committee, thousands of teachers took a personal day off and appeared at the capitol with the intent of making their professional opinions known. I am proud to say that The Louisiana Association of Educators, where I spent 20 years representing teachers, did everything they could to turn out the teachers and allow them input into their profession.  The Louisiana Federation of Teachers did the same in bringing teachers to the capitol. Unfortunately teachers were systematically locked out of the education committee room, while the business lobbyists and a fake professional education group got reserved seats. Teachers did insist on testifying however, and were generally insulted by the education committee chairperson. That's the input teachers were allowed from Jindal and the Legislature when some of the most consequential education legislation in a generation was passed. At the same time, the untested Common Core standards were adopted and implemented, setting up Louisiana students as the ultimate victims of education reform.
Lack of support for teachers in maintaining discipline and preventing classroom disruption is also a major factor in teachers giving up the profession
Call me old fashioned, but I think teachers should have the right to punish students who disrupt the class, and disrespect their teachers. The education reformers don't like to use the word "punish" when it comes to stopping bad behavior of some students. There is now such a strong push on graduating almost all students regardless of performance, that student suspension has almost been abolished for even some of the most aggressive and disrespectful behaviors. It almost seems that somehow the teacher is always to blame for bad student behavior.

Here are some of the latest terms used by reformers to avoid punishing disruptive students: 

Teachers must learn how to "deescalate" the situation when a student becomes disruptive. The teacher is asked: "What did you do to cause the unacceptable behavior?" 

A program designed to mostly ignore bad behavior and implement reinforcements for good behavior is called "Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), now required in many schools. Most teachers say it is a joke and ties their hands in stopping bad behavior.

"Restorative justice", which requires specialists trained in certain techniques of resolving disputes between student and student and teacher and student is another often expensive option to suspension. 

Teachers forced to accept often rude and humiliating behavior from students that also prevent other students from having an orderly classroom often don't feel that everyone in the classroom should have to suffer at the hands of the few who don't usually care to learn in the first place. State laws granting teachers the right to remove extremely disruptive students from the classroom are often ignored by administrators who don't want to have their school labeled by the state for having a high suspension rate.

Many teachers who are trapped in these humiliating and stressful situations end up giving up their chosen profession.
Teachers finally had enough
The Jindal reforms can be summarized with one word. Disastrous!

The new teacher evaluation program called COMPASS, had actually been written by a non-teacher brought in by John White. It was very impractical, took huge chunks of time from teachers and principals, and amounted to a dog and pony show instead of real teaching. Not one penny of Jindal's merit pay system was funded, so many school systems robbed automatic step increases to fund the merit pay, resulting in no overall improvement in average pay. All of this was extremely demoralizing  for all teachers.

On Dec. 20, 2013, I posted this article on my blog including a letter written by a teacher who had just resigned along with several other highly respected teachers in Lafayette Parish. It describes the extreme frustration experienced by thousands of teachers all over the state with the extreme disrespect expressed in the Jindal education reforms. Early teacher retirements and resignations exploded. But even more important, teachers warned their own children and close relatives not to go into the so called "education profession". Enrollments in the colleges of education dropped off drastically and are still down by 18% compared to before the reforms.

At first John White was not concerned. He could fill a lot of the vacancies with his TFA favorites. White more recently established a policy that would require a year of internship under the guidance of "experienced" teachers. (Remember those are the people White testified in the legislature were no better than brand new teachers)  

The new teacher evaluation program, based 50% on student test scores, resulted in numerous defective results. Many teachers were devastated by losing tenure and being put in remediation according to the rules of the COMPASS system. The program was temporarily suspended and then later reduced to a 35% factor instead of 50%. LABI and the reformers were still tied to the new evaluation system even if it did not work.

Charter schools and voucher schools have not been the magic bullet originally expected. In fact the charters are riddled with scandals, do not help students to perform better, and the students in voucher schools according to this study would have done better on state tests if they had stayed in their public schools.
In 2017, after all the reforms, Louisiana's student test ranking as measured by the national NAEP, fell to its lowest level ever
Now with the lowering of standards which was advertised as "raising the bar" our students are doing worse than ever compared to other states. But LABI and the education reformers still refuse to admit the  serious damage caused by COMPASS, Common Core, and the systematic attacks on teacher benefits that have occurred over the last 16 years. There is still obvious resentment and disrespect for the whole teaching profession. It must be the teachers' fault that the reforms have not worked yet. Just give it more time. Patch up the teacher shortage with some type of cheap fix.

Unfortunately, We cannot expect the teacher shortage to be repaired under these conditions.