By State Rep. Vernon G. Smith
Indiana is suffering a severe teacher shortage. Throughout Indiana, 19 percent of Indiana’s first-year teachers don’t come back to their jobs. In high-poverty schools, 29 percent quit their jobs or go to other schools after the end of the first school year.
Retention levels are very low at some of our schools in Gary and East Chicago. The following figures are from the 2012-14 school years. At New Tech Innovative Institute in Gary, the rate was 39 percent. At East Chicago’s Block Middle School, it was 42 percent. Also in East Chicago, Lighthouse Charter School had a rate of 45 percent. And Lincoln Achievement Center in Gary was at 51 percent.
For the past decade, the Indiana General Assembly has caused great damage to public education to the point that teachers don’t want to teach in Indiana anymore. Who can blame them?
The Republican legislators have attacked the teachers’ unions. The GOP won’t let educators receive additional money for earning a master’s degree and getting advanced education training. In addition, they keep interfering with local control.
Teachers don’t mind being held accountable, but the Indiana General Assembly’s majority party wants to hold educators responsible for student scores. Teachers are teaching, but the truth is that some students don’t want to learn and some parents don’t care if their children get an education. Why should teachers be penalized by those who don’t value education and refuse the parental responsibility of encouraging their children to do their homework, study for exams and even show up at school?
Educators don’t mind being held accountable, even with test scores as part of the evaluation, but politicians continue to put additional pressure on teachers to essentially “force” students to learn as opposed to teaching the students who want to learn. Teaching is no longer enjoyable and certainly not fulfilling when an educator is judged on factors beyond his control.
We did do something positive this legislative session to move toward a long-term solution for teacher retention. We passed House Bill 1002 in a bipartisan manner. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) was the bill’s author and I was the co-author. The bill provides for a generous scholarship to top students who want to be teachers.
A student, who qualifies for the scholarship, would get a $7,500 stipend and could apply for it each of the student’s four years at the university. It is an excellent program, but the program doesn’t begin until 2017, meaning the first students, benefiting from this program, won’t enter the classroom professionally until 2021.
The scholarship will help toward a long-term solution, but we are in a crisis now and need short-term answers as well. I believe those answers should include a marketing campaign designed to attract talented, young people, minorities in particular, into a career as teachers and also encourage them to eventually become administrators of schools. Additionally, Indiana must reduce its reliance on test scores. The ISTEP has been a flawed test over multiple years and there have been significant problems with the administering of the tests.
Last year, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz brought together 50 of the state’s top education experts to study teacher retention and recruitment as part of a Blue Ribbon Commission. After six meetings over three months, the commission issued its recommendations for strategies to end the teacher shortage.
Those recommendations included:
- Establish a statewide mentoring program.
- Start a marketing campaign.
- Recruit diverse teachers.
- Allow for locally established pay models.
- Reduce teacher assessment’s over-reliance on test scores.
- Allow for more clinical experiences.
- Allow more opportunities for growth.
- Provide time to participate in job-embedded professional development.
- Compensation for professional development, including earning a master’s degree
Teachers generally believe there is a lack of administrative and professional support. There is an underlying feeling that those for whom they work so hard don’t appreciate them. Even worse, teachers have been scapegoated by politicians looking for quick solutions and easy answers. There are no quick fixes to problems in education, but there are solutions if the Legislature and the public commit themselves to implementing them while respecting these educators who devote their lives to children for very little pay.
Dr. Smith is the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Education Committee