Thursday, July 30, 2015

NC Education of Tomorrow

Raleigh, North Carolina, April 2019

Political leaders gathered to celebrate today as Department of Education bulldozers upgraded the last NC public school, replacing it with a picturesque park.

"It has been a long road," said State Education Biggifier Harlen McDimbulb., overseeing the work as the dozer knocked down the last chart-encrusted data wall. "But our big breakthrough came with the court ruling that certified our voucher system back there a few years. That finally allowed us to get money and support to outstanding schools like God Loves White Guys High and Aryan Academy. Great private schools were being denied public tax dollars just because they wouldn't teach state-approved so-called 'fact' and 'science.'"

"Vouchers opened the door," said Assistant Secretary of Money Laundering Chauncey Gotbux. "But with the court's blessing, we were finally able to use public education tax dollars as they were meant to be used-- as a source e of profit for people who deserve it."

Asked about the looseness of oversight and accountability for the tax dollars, Gotbux replied, "When you give the money to the right people, you can trust that they do the right thing with it."

"There were some serious problems," admitted Golly Mugbungle of the Greater North Carolina School Choice Initiative Authority. "We quickly streamlined the process so that non-public schools could get their money just by asking for it and completing a simple yet rigorous form. But since the form only asked 'Are you a school' and we had no follow-up investigation to look at those claims, we discovered that we were mistakenly sending tax dollars to public schools." He chuckled nostalgically. "Yeah, we had to shut that down pretty quickly."

"The upgrade of public education in NC required several different initiatives," said McDimbulb. "It helped to set up a clear choice for parents-- would you rather have your child trapped in third grade forever while he tries to pass the state's reading exam, or in a fun private school where reading is only occasionally taught at all? Do you want your child stuck in a school where she has to sit in rooms with the children of Those People, or do you want her to be able to relax with children of the right kind of folks?"

"Initially the exodus was a little too slow," added Mugbungle. "We helped that along with the Furniture and Accessories Initiative of 2017. Under that law public schools, in addition to the funding that they had to give up through vouchers, were required to give desks, chairs, tables and clocks to any private school that asked for them. The costs savings to private schools that no longer had to come up with, say, their own roofing or parking lot asphalt were considerable. At one point we were looking at ways to strip the paint off public school walls and give it to private schools, but that just wasn't feasible."

McDimbulb interjected. "The teacher part of the puzzle stumped us for a while. You recall the courts told us we couldn't just cancel tenure or their pensions. We thought not giving them a raise for almost a decade might do it, but again, progress was just too slow." He shook his head and smiled. "We could not get them pesky sumbitches to give up-- like cockroaches. So the Teacher Excellence Protection To Excell Act of 2017 right-sized the teacher pay scale so that we have actually reduced their salaries each year, thereby protecting teachers from the stress of having to decide what to do with disposable income. We are proud to say that base salary for a teacher in North Carolina is now $147.53. The three teachers receiving that pay seem quite satisfied with it."

"To fill teacher-ish jobs, the alternative certificate program has been highly successful. You've probably seen our Teaching Certificate Vending Machines in most major super-markets. We share the revenue with TFA and it has worked well for us," said Gotbux. "Anybody with a couple of quarters to rub together can become part of the exciting world of education."

"People have questioned the quality of many of our Private Education Fund Recipients (what y'all sometimes call schools), and we are proud to say that as officials of the state government, we have no idea, " said McDimbulb.

Gotbux laughed and corrected him. "MY salary is actually paid by the charter school industry."

"Anyway," McDimbulb continued, "we think it's best that we not meddle with the private schools in any way, so we try to stay completely ignorant of what they're doing. Though I do hear rumors from time to time. Why, I heard tell of one innovative program where science class is built around old Flintstones videos. How clever is that? The Flintstones are a great way to combine historical lessons with humor."

"There are some public school students left," said McDimbulb. "We'll be pitching a nice tent for them to have classes in right over there. We expect to set up the tent next Monday, and then Tuesday we'll be fining the school for holding classes in a tent. We need to get them off this lot because we have plans to put up a statue of Jesus riding a dinosaur here."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kansas: Digging a Deeper Hole

News came two weeks ago that Kansas has taken a bold new step in making their schools Even Worse. The story is one of how several current trends intersect to drag schools backwards in defiance of common sense or educational concern.

July 14, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to allow unlicensed people to teach in Kansas schools.
Their motivations are not hard to explain. Kansas has entered the Chase Teachers Out of The State derby, joining states like North Carolina and Arizona in the attempt to make teaching unappealing as a career and untenable as a way for grown-ups to support a family. Kansas favors the two-pronged technique. With one prong, you strip teachers of job protections and bargaining rights, so that you can fire them at any time for any reason and pay them as little as you like. With the other prong, you strip funding from schools, so that teachers have to accomplish more and more on a budget of $1.95 (and if they can't get it done, see prong number one).

The result is predictable. Kansas is solidly settled onto the list of Places Teachers Work As Their Very Last Choice.It's working out great for Missouri; their school districts have teacher recruitment billboards up in Kansas. But in Kansas, there's a teacher shortage.

Kansas is not alone. Indiana is also among the many states with fewer new teachers in the pipeline than ever.

How to solve the problem?

You would think with so many free market fans making their mark in the edubiz these days, the answer would be both obvious and widely discussed. Because the free market really does understand this problem. If I want to buy goods and services from you, and you won't sell to me at the price I propose, my choices are A) do without, B) get a cheap substitute, C) rob you or D) offer you more money. Even basic economics students understand supply and demand.

But all these free market acolytes keep looking at teacher shortages, scratching their heads, and saying, "Golly bob howdy, but I don't know how we could possibly convince teachers to come fill these jobs."

Well, not all of them. Some look at the dismantling of public education and say, "Excellent! Glad to be rid of it." And others have said, "Teachers shmeachers. Any shmoe can teach school."
Kansas now joins the latter group.

They haven't gone whole spam (because who needs the whole hog, amiright?) yet. Kansas will only be allowing unqualified people in the classrooms of poor students in poor districts, specifically the Innovation Districts that have been given special dispensation to skip certain state regulations.

Meanwhile in other news, a newly-released piece of research suggests that poor students in poor neighborhoods get the least qualified, least effective teachers out there. There are many debatable points in that research, but there's no denying that Kansas is making a concerted and determined effort to make it true. The Kansas legislature could not more effectively drive their school system straight to the bottom if they sat down for a strategy meeting to answer the question, "How Can We Make Our Schools the Very Worst in the West?" (Okay, that's not entirely fair-- I'm sure that none of Kansas's wealthy districts will be getting unqualified people off the street in their classrooms.)

UPDATE/CORRECTION: In fact, there is at least one very wealthy district that is in on this game. It does reduce the awfulness of the rest of this plan, but it does mean that Kansas is not simply targeting poor schools for this special treatment.

Look, boys-- it's not rocket surgery. The Kansas City Royals were a giant suckfest from 1985 to the early 2010's, in no small part because they insisted on getting rid of any players who got expensive and because players were not in a hurry to play for losers. Then they decided to build their team up by offering competitive salaries and better playing conditions. Team owners did not declare, "Since it's hard to recruit, let's just grab some guys off the street and put them out on the field."

The Kansas legislature either wants to destroy their public education system, or they're dopes. Perhaps how they react to the Board of Education decision will give us a clue. Keep trying, boys. Missouri is cheering for you.

Originally posted at View from the Cheap Seats

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rick Hess's Cage-Busting Lessons

Rick Hess has been busy promoting his book about Cage-Busting Teachers, and he reported ten lessons that he learned out on the circuit. As always I find Hess worth paying attention to because (unlike some of his reformy brethren) he's not sloppy or lazy in his thinking. So what did he learn (and, by extension, think the rest of us should get)?

1) Schools and leaders are hungry for teacher leadership. Well, they say they are. Which, of course, is often the problem. Most of us have had encounters with administrators who project a clear message of, "I would love to see some teachers step up and become leaders in pursuit of exactly what I tell them to pursue." This is a recurring issue that I have with Hess's cage-busting model. Sometimes the cages are built strong, wired with electricity, and coated in poisonous venom.

2) Advocates on all sides of the reform/public ed issue love the idea of cage busting teachers. I think that's probably true, but only if we get that there's a wide number of ideas about what a CBT is and what obstacles need to be busted.

3) Hess agrees. Everybody likes CBT, but nobody knows how to grow them. I have some thoughts. But Step One is for administrators to let go of the notion that teacher leadership has to look like they want it to and result in the outcomes they demand.

4) Reformers have focused too much on getting rid of bad teachers, while teachers have not focused on it enough, but everybody should focus more on giving great teachers what they need. Hess is landing near the Hero Teacher Fallacy here, but he's not completely wrong. Guys like Andy Cuomo who believe that there are a gazillion terrible teachers who just need to be found and jettisoned are wasting their time.

5) Veteran teachers are used to a culture that has no respect for excellence. Yes, I'd say that's true. And this:

I've been struck at how enthusiastically these educators describe the lift provided by modest recognition, and how appreciative they are for some of the perks that twenty-something policy types take for granted.

Yup. I've argued for years that money discussion would be less contentious at contract time if districts just offered to treat teachers like respected grown-ups. But they don't.

6) Teachers don't code switch. Sigh. I hate it, but I know he's right. Too many teachers don't get how to function in places that aren't their classroom, and are bad at the most essential part of dealing with people-- understanding what those peoples' priorities and foci are. The most cringeworthy argument I hear teachers make to advocate against a policy is offering some version of, "But this makes me sad.."

At the same time, it's hard not to resent the underlying power dynamic here-- to be heard, teachers have to learn to speak the language of policymakers and boardrooms and suits and even think tanks. Why is it that none of these people have bothered to try learning our language?

7) Reasonable and polite teachers should speak up. We know that Hess prefers his cage busters polite and genteel and not speaking up loudly, rudely or at inappropriate moments. This remains the weakest part of Hess's position-- he's concern trolling and tone police in one, worried that if teachers speak up too loudly or too rudely, gosh, they just won't be taken seriously by the People Who Matter. I won't deny that there are some teachers who are in a seemingly permanent state of High Dudgeon (and reformsters who are stuck in a state of Righteous Crusading Against Infidels). But I'm reminded of something I've said often-- if people don't believe they are being heard when they speak, they will keep raising their voice. If someone is yelling at me, nine times out of ten it's because they don't believe I hear them. If I don't like being yelled at, it is often within my power to stop it. It's not that I'll listen to them when they adopt a proper tone; it's that when they know I'm listening, they'll get quieter on their own. Just saying.

8) While Hess reminds us that reformsters by and large mean well, he reminds reformsters that teachers actually have to make all these bright ideas work.

That power and precision accorded to accountability systems, teacher evaluation systems, turnaround models, and the rest is sometimes disturbingly disconnected from an interest in how this affects the actual work of the teachers who are expected to make these deliver.

9) Teachers surprise Hess by actually being quite open to New Stuff. Well, yes. We're always looking at new stuff, trying new things, and experimenting like Doofenshmirtz hunting for a great new Teachinator. Reformsters have made this mistake over and over and over and over again, assuming that because we don't like their stupid new idea, we don't like any new ideas at all. Reformsters consistently fail to ask the question that teachers, experimenting in our classroom every day, always ask-- Does this actually work? Does this actually help me teach students?

10) Policymakers and Other Important People listen to teachers better when teachers provide concrete specific examples of what they're talking about. Fair enough.

My cage busting problem (and I freely confess that I have not yet read the book) is that Hess's whole model seems to assume a maintenance of a certain power status, with teachers on the bottom. In the wrong light, Hess starts to sound like a solicitous parent saying, "Of course, you can come sit at the grown-up table, just as soon as you act grown-up and show us that you can handle it."

What he says sounds reasonable, and it may in fact be a clear dose of Realpolitik, but to get at what troubles me, let me propose an alternative book. In this book Hess (or someone) says, "For too long we've been trying to keep teachers locked up and constrained, forcing them into the shape we demand of them. So let's release them from the cage we've built for them. Let's stop talking to them about how to do their job, shut our mouths, sit down and listen to the experts, the teachers who have devoted their lives to education. And maybe after we have listened and learned, we can prove to them that we deserve to be listened to and our ideas deserve to be considered. But first we need to free them to do the work they know." The author of this imaginary book could call it Cage-Busting Policymakers.

But that's not the book he wrote. And while teachers do need to step up and are (and have been) doing most of the heavy lifting of the teaching world, Hess's assumption that of course policymakers, whether elected or self-appointed, are rightfully in charge, and teachers are, by default, rightfully not.

Hess's best insight is that too many teachers are so used to being caged and powerless that they don't test the limits and they don't break through some bars that are weak and pointless and deserve to be busted. But he is disingenuous to avoid acknowledging where those cages came from in the first place, or the huge number of new cages that have been built in the last fifteen years.

Damn. I'm going to have to read his book.

NY Charter in Trouble

Riverhead Charter School was first opened in 2001 in Calverton, NY. They started out as a K-5 school and have since moved up to K-8 status. And Standards & Poors thinks they have some problems.

On the upside, Riverhead has just moved into a shiny $14.1 million new school, financed through two bond issues, including the first federal Qualified School Construction Bond ever awarded a charter school. Now students can eat in a cafeteria and have PE in a gymnasium. I'm sure there are plenty of public school students in New York State who are envious. Back in 2004, Riverhead also became one of the first charter schools in New York to unionize.

Riverhead has also had its share of controversy. Much of the more recent controversy appears to center around Principal Raymond Ankrum. This video clip will give you absolutely no real information, but watching this board meeting spin completely out of control gives a real sense of the level of volatility. Ankrum was brought in after a national search; he's an experienced charter hand, but he had been at the school only a couple of years before all hell broke loose.

At the Great Schools site, ratings are either very high or very low-- there's no in between. While these can be taken, always, with a lump of salt, they seem to lay out the issues pretty clearly:

The principle [sic] Mr. Arkrum has worked very hard to filter out all staff members who chose to believe in a Union including the Union President. There are all new teachers with less than 2 years experience and are under Mr. Arkum rule!! There are no bad kids only bad behavior that need to be redirected. I like to know why bad kids don't deserve a place at that school? I know they are not special needs friendly.

The principal and teachers of this school do care and Mr Ankrum has worked very hard this past year to filter out poor staff and bad kids that don't deserve a place there. Children are pushed and encouraged a lot but for their own good. Any child under Mr Ankrum's watch is safe and this can't be stressed enough.

Ankrum apparently called a staff meeting, invited teachers to share how they felt about the teachers union, and then those that supported it were fired, some as soon as two weeks after the meeting, including a teacher previous lauded as "Teacher of the Year." Then the school filed a petition to have the school's union decertified. Ankrum reportedly reminded staff that he could fire them at any time. NYSUT did not take kindly to any of this, and the labor wrestling and lawsuits began. Ankrum (actually titled "executive director") is still in place.

Oh, and this is the school where the union president was fired over using eggs in a classroom experiment with an egg-allergic student in the room.

Then, just last week, this:

The Riverhead Charter School’s bond rating was downgraded this week following a state report indicating it’s at risk of closing due to poor performance in various areas, including communication and oversight.

That's the bond issued on the new school building. S&P has downgraded that to a negative outlook, based on the state's on-site analysis that the school may not have a future ahead of it. Ankrum responded to the downgrade:

“The Riverhead Charter School continues to strive for excellence by providing a rigorous education in an environment where students are put first,” Mr. Ankrum wrote in an email. “We are confident that S&P will upgrade our next rating since parent satisfaction surveys are in the 90th percentile, we have made academic gains over the past year and have a 92.5 percent staff retention rate for next year, which is well above the 81 percent national charter school average.”

Well, maybe. The state says that when given the chance to speak anonymously, parents and staff describe a school where Ankrum and the Board don't communicate effectively and establish an atmosphere where parents and teachers are expected to shut up and do as they're told. The descriptive phrase “in a degrading fashion to parents and staff” turned up. And folks are still concerned about the union-related purging of staff. A former board member is suing over her removal after she was critical of board policy. And the state criticized the lack of any formal job performance review system for Ankrum.

It all adds up to one more example of the instability that comes with charter schools, as well as the sorts of chaos that comes without job protections for teachers and a chartery hatred for unions in a system that doesn't have to listen to the taxpayers if they don't feel like it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Substitute Shortage

One of the surprises of my look into state by state teacher shortages was the widespread reporting of a substitute teacher shortage. I knew we had a problem in my region. I didn't realize it was a problem everywhere.

Several writers have tried to parse out the problem and offer solutions, but I don't find anybody doing any serious research on the issue. So until that turns up, let me fill the void with more speculation and anecdotal evidence. You're welcome.

One writers specifically singles out the ACA as NOT a problem. Many folks were worried that districts would cap substitute hours to avoid having to pay health care costs, thus effectively reducing the number of total sub-hours available. But that shortage-by-Obamacare assumes a pool of subs who wanted to work all the time, and that may not be a safe assumption in any markets. So maybe a culprit, maybe not.

That same source also suggests that greater absenteeism is a culprit--iow, we need more subs. Can we get teachers to miss less school? The writer suggests that an increase in in-service training is the problem. And so we can chalk up the sub shortage as another side effect of the reformster movement.

Fewer people in the teacher pipeline also seems a good bet. Fewer people coming out of teacher programs means fewer people "auditioning" for jobs in school districts.

I would bet we are losing some of those as well. Here comes an anecdote.

When I came back to my area, I started out as a sub. I was single; I sank my nest egg into a mobile home in a trailer park. Back then (early 80's) a day of subbing paid $50. Two days of work paid my lot rent, and after that it was all gravy (well, spagetti and generic sauce, anyway). I couldn't have supported a family on sub pay, but I could live independently. But in thirty five years the going sub rate in my region has gone up about thirty-five dollars. If it had kept pace with inflation, the sub rate would be at about $130.

Point is this. In 1981, I could live on sub pay and hold on until a job turned up. Nowadays, subs may take on another easy-to-schedule job like waitressing and still not be able to support themselves. A teacher hoping to land a real gig may end up taking themselves out of the pool because of their selfish desires for food and shelter. In many areas, teaching has joined the long list of modern jobs that you can't afford to break into unless you have well-off parents or a good trust fund.

The other common sub back in the day was a nice lady with a teaching certificate who had stayed home to raise kids and, now that they were older, was ready to earn a little pin money to supplement the main income her husband brought home. That scenario is by the wayside as well, of course.

Bottom line: lots of people need to make a living too badly to stay available to sub pools.

This dovetails with another oft-cited culprit--an improving economy that means people can do better and get an actual job. I'm not sure how much this holds water, but the argument is out there.

Many states have come up with many creative ways to fill their sub gaps. NEA has a whole list, and some of it is a little horrifying--  Georgia and Florida are among the states that only require a high school diploma to be a sub. But opening the doors wide to any warm body is not a great answer, either. Pennsylvania years ago tried a Guest Teacher program; with a little training, anybody who'd ever held down a job could become a substitute teacher. We had lots of folks sign up, but very few of them survived their first few encounters with actual students. (Turns out that while your office subordinates may have listened to you because you were the boss, sixteen year olds are less so inclined.)Substituting is hard work-- in some ways more grueling than having a regular classroom assignment-- and lots of folks find out they'd just rather not.

Substitute shortages are a good example of our avoidance of obvious solutions. How could we possibly convince more people to become substitute teachers?

Pay them more.

Yes, there are other factors that would help. Nothing will lose a sub faster than a building where nobody is in charge and no discipline is maintained. And it's nice to make subs feel at home, like part of the team, and not like a stranger who's supposed to know what to do through some sort of psychic power. But mostly it's pretty simple. If people can't afford to live on the wages you're paying, people will take any other job except the one you're offering.

A good sub pool is critical. A good sub keeps classes moving forward and makes sure that the needs of students are met even if the regular teacher must miss. A bad sub means it will take me three days to make up for the one day I had to miss. A good sub honors the promise that a school should make-- no matter what, we will get you the education you were promised. It seems obvious that we do not want to draw subs only from the pool of People Who Couldn't Find Anything Else To Do In The Whole World.

Heck, you could get crazy and hire permanent subs as some districts do-- a person who is hired at a full contract with full benefits and who is there every day to cover whatever needs to be covered.

Substitute shortage is yet another problem to which we know the solution. It's just that the solution costs money, and we don't wanna. A good substitute teacher is worth her weight in gold, but we prefer to offer only peanuts. 

Duncan Gets a Pass

Catalyst Chicago has been reporting on Chicago education for twenty-five year, operating as "an independent news organization that serves as a watchdog and resource for school improvement in Chicago." While they do offer plenty of space to features like guest writers plugging the awesomeness of reform, their news coverage is pretty balanced-- they do not appear to have any requirement that their reporters never cover bad news about charters.

But last week Catalyst ran the fluffiest piece of fluffery ever in Maureen Kelleher's paean to Arne Duncan. Surely this is not going to be the narrative that anyone pushes about Duncan as he approaches his post-federal earning years.

First, Kelleher flashes back to Duncan's elevation to the head job of Chicago schools (he was successor to Paul Vallas). Duncan's big success-- adopting a tracking method for freshmen. On the other hand...

Duncan also championed expanding school choice and lent new urgency to the work of transforming struggling high schools -- initiatives that drew heat from the political left. These efforts had more mixed results.

No kidding.

Next we move on to Duncan's career as Secretary of Education in, perhaps, some parallel universe.

Duncan has encouraged states to innovate around accountability systems, offering waivers from No Child Left Behind’s rules.

This is true in much the same way it's true that a mugger encourages you to put your hands up and offers to take all of your cash. To talk about the waiver program as if it was a mild suggestion, even a favor, to state systems, is to miss the whole point. States, over a financial barrel, and looking at the unachievable goals of NCLB (100% above average by 2014), had a choice about accepting Duncan's offer in the same way that apartment dwellers have a choice about whether or not to pay the rent.

Finally, we look into Duncan's future.

As noted by the Washington Post, Duncan's family is moving back to Chicago while Duncan says he's sticking out the rest of the Obama Presidency. While some have expressed skepticism, I can believe it. Summer is the time to move kids without messing up their world, and this summer is likely to be less messy than next. Why not. Of course, as widely noted, his kids will attend an elite non-Common Core unreformed private school. That would have been a good thing to mention.

But Kelleher turns to Peter Cunningham for quotes. Cunningham is a long-time Arne associate who now heads up the $12 million dollar website-that-will-not-be-named, but which now looks almost hard-hitting compared to Kelleher's piece. Cunningham says Duncan is no quitter, with grit and drive and stuff.

Duncan's sister confirms he's not looking for work right now. Probably true-- Duncan can line up consulting work in the ed industry with an hour's worth of phone calls, so why rush anything.

Considering what other education secretaries have done after their terms, Cunningham doesn’t see Duncan returning to district leadership, either. Consulting, elected office and work with think tanks and foundations are more likely. While in CPS, Duncan’s team built relationships with private foundations and federal grant administrators that more than tripled the district’s take of competitive grant funds.

I'm not sure which thinky tank would have him, but I get a smile out of imagining him going off to work for Mike Petrilli at Fordham. The implication of that last sentence seems clear to me-- Duncan will be able to hook people up with some serious money.

So, not so much as a sentence to consider the reality, the controversy, or the legacy of Duncan's work in office. Between this and the Post profile, it's beginning to look like we're going to be subjected to a year or more of valedictory essays filled with attaboys but no consideration of the damage to public education done by Duncan.

Look, I have no desire to see the guy drawn and quartered and publicly pilloried, but he has presided over an unprecedented re-engineering of the entire purpose of US public education-- one of our oldest and most honored institutions-- and in the process has come close to destroying one of the legs on which democracy stands. Backlash against his work has created entire new movements that didn't exist a decade ago, and Congress has spent part of their time writing a new law arguing about just how much power should be stripped from his office simply in reaction to how he has used that power.

I don't need to see Duncan personally attacked, but any retrospective or faux retrospective has to look at where we are in education policy, what choices have been made, what the effects have been on us as a nation, if for no other reason than we need to have a serious talk about where to head next. A business as usual, nothing to see here, so how do you like living in DC puff piece is irresponsible.

Duncan's one gift is that he has such an aww-shucks lovable lunkhead air about him that people don't so much notice that he has been laying waste with a battleax. As he nears his exit from office, we cannot afford to pay attention only to the aw shucks and ignore the damage done with the battleax.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Teacher "Shortage" Reflections

Assembling my recent post on teacher shortages gave me a lot to reflect on, but since the piece was already a gazillion words long, I saved that reflection for another post. Here is that post.

In no particular order, here are some of the things that jumped out as I did my national tour.

Spin Is a Thing

I deliberately searched through general press coverage. I didn't dig deep for True Facts, and I stayed away from direct reporting by teachers' unions. So what I found yesterday was a better reflection of what people are saying than what is necessarily true. I don't have to tell you those aren't always the same. Statements about shortages fell largely into these categories--

* OMGZ!! We have barely any teachers and we must must MUST certify anything that moves as a teacher right after we invite as many Teach for America folks we can find into the state.

* Look at that teacher shortage! It's proof that the people who run our state suck with a sucky suckiness that really sucks.

* We want to have good schools. We are paying attention to what's happening, and we're trying to make smart, responsible choices about how to handle things.

The third group seems to lack a certain sense of dramatic crisis mode in their press coverage. The other two, not so much (and I say that knowing that group two includes people who share many of my concerns and allegiances about education).

I suspect that this relates to how some of the results came in. Many people expressed amazement that Ohio is not talking about teacher shortages; that may be because charters really have increased demand or it may be because running for president is easier if you don't have one more education crisis at home. Likewise, folks let me know that many parts of California are wielding the layoff ax with verve, in a way that would belie any claims of shortage. If there's a disconnect between reality and reportage, that's a story, but it's not one that this citizen hack faux journalist had the time to run down, yet.

Teacher Diversity

Only two states were talking about it. Why this issue keeps falling off the front burner is beyond me. It's critical that our teaching force shift to reflect the new reality of diversity in our student population, but it's just not happening, and nobody in a position to make a fuss is doing much about it. In all the talk of recruitment and retention, nobody is talking about getting non-white, non-female teachers into classrooms and keeping them there-- and we should be talking about it a great deal.

Shortages Are Not All Bad

Teacher shortages aren't so bad if you're a teacher looking for work. And relatively mild ones can be a help.

Here in PA teacher training programs are drying up and shutting down because of low, low, low enrollment. That low enrollment is undoubtedly related to the fact that everybody knows a teacher who can't get a job, or who had a job that she lost when the district shut down a school because of financials pressures created by our genius leaders in Harrisburg. Should we turn a corner some day (hey, it could happen), we're going to go from teacher glut to teacher shortage very quickly, and once that happens, it takes years for college students to get the memo that, yes, there are teaching jobs again.

So a little bit of shortage equals an encouraging job market that helps draw people into the field (assuming, of course, that you haven't North Carolinaed everything up and made teaching hopelessly untenable as a career).

The Substitute Thing

I should have known. I mean, we're in substitute trouble here even though we ought to be loaded with teachers who want to get a job.

This is going to need its own piece, because it's not clear what it means. Some writers consider it a sign of teacher shortages. In my area, I consider it a sign of two things-- 1) that no human being not living in a van by the river could ever live on sub pay and 2) the former sub pool of nice housewifey ladies with teaching credentials who wanted to make a little grocery money on top of their husband's real salary-- that group is now living on Hippogryph Lane, just past the unicorn farm.

But it is clearly a national issue, with all sorts of implications, and none of them are good. I'll definitely get back to this.

The Real Shortage

It's not teachers-- it's working conditions conducive to maintaining the nation's teacher force. If we discovered that our armed forces were comprised of six skinny guys with slingshots, we'd want to know why recruiting was broken, and we'd try to fix it. We wouldn't try to punish the six guys for not being one hundred bulky man-mountains. We wouldn't try to make it harder to legitimately get into the armed forces while simultaneously picking up the slack by grabbing random people off the street. And we wouldn't try to change the job description of a soldier (Anybody who can make a mean face should do) so that we could fill up empty spots without paying any attention to what we were filling them with.

As I've said many times, it is mysterious that so many free market acolytes don't seem to get this. You offer what the market requires you to offer. Instead, many states are trying to bite the invisible hand that has ceased to feed them.