Friday, September 09, 2005

The Spellings Report: The Secretary And Me

Back on August 26, we noted that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is seeking questions from teachers. How could I resist that? I took the bait. We asked a question, and on August 31st, both question and answer were posted over on the Department's website. (You'll need to scroll down)
Q: Ed from Heber, California

According to Fox News, California will soon experience a shortage of some 100,000 teachers. Since NCLB directs that fully credentialed teachers shall be serving in our children's classrooms, will the market-forces of supply and demand be allowed to help determine teacher salaries?

A: Secretary Spellings

No Child Left Behind requires that, by the end of the 2005-06 school year, all teachers who teach core academic subjects be highly qualified. Teachers hired in the future must also be highly qualified. According to the law, a teacher is highly qualified if he or she has a bachelor's degree, is fully certified by the state and has demonstrated subject-area competence in each subject taught. A teacher who has an emergency or provisional license would not be highly qualified.

While decisions about teacher pay are made at the state and local levels, the U.S. Department of Education is interested in helping states and districts do a better job of rewarding teachers who take on difficult teaching assignments. President Bush has proposed a $500 million Teacher Incentive Fund to provide states with money to reward teachers who take challenging jobs and achieve real results. States and districts can use program funds to develop performance-based teacher compensation systems that could go a long way toward alleviating the sort of teacher shortage that you describe.
Sometimes, you have to go to press with the response you have, not an answer to the question that you'd asked.

But even I was surprised that she would take a straight-forward question like the one I posed and fabricate a response advocating some sort of "performance-based teacher compensation system." (a.k.a. "merit pay")

One of the laws of economics says that when labor is in short supply, wages tend to go up. While that's true with most occupations, it hasn't been so with public school teachers.

What happens is that various state credentialing agencies always issue some type of "emergency" credential to masses of would-be teachers in order to get "warm bodies" into the classroom, thereby relieving any "teacher shortage" that may appear.

It goes without saying that a large number of "emergency credentialed" teachers will flood the market with an overabundance of labor, thereby relieving pressure to raise wages and keeping them down.

I strongly believe that those aspects of No Child Left Behind
that mandate a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom will also be (at least in practice) nullified by the states as the shortage of fully credentialed (a.k.a. "highly qualified) teachers becomes acute.

As with past so-called "teacher shortages," we will see large numbers of uncredentialed teachers in our children's classrooms. The only thing that may be different will be the nomenclature. These new "emergency credentialed" teachers may go by other names: pre-intern, intern, pre-professional, provisional, or whatever.

Here's one of the education world's Eternal Questions, one that is sure to cause debate among many who hear it: Should school teachers be considered as "professionals?"

I answer thusly: When was the last time you ever saw a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or plumber with some sort of "emergency" license to practice his or her trade? Could you even imagine a surgeon performing an operation without ever having completed medical school?

There needs to be an end to all "emergency" credentialing schemes designed to alliviate teacher shortagages and let the market place determine wages and benefits.

That would be a first step toward raising the status of K-12 classroom teachers to the level of "professionals."

Our district's superintendent, Dr. Evil, once famously said that "professional educators" are principals and above, while teachers should be thought of as "service providers."

Many times, small-town school districts are led dominated by the superintendents that they're stuck with and not the ones who would be good for the community.

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