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Friday, May 14, 2010

Did Schools Hire Too Many Teachers?

Data from the U.S. Department of Education show that from 1999 to 2007 teachers were hired at more than twice the rate of the K-12 enrollment increases. When schools feel tremendous pressure to reform yesterday, they pick quick and dirty methods. For example, a school can look like it is raising student achievement by pushing first grade curriculum into kindergarten. See all the little kids with pencils and paper---yay, instant academic achievement.

Another easy reform instantly reduces teacher-student ratio by hiring more teachers. But if every classroom already has a teacher, where to put the extra ones. Schools responded by pulling experienced teachers out of classroom into professional development positions, and replacing them with new teachers. The rate of teacher hires far outpaced the increase in student numbers. Some schools even added teaching staff as enrollments declined.

The glut of new hires even overpowered the dreaded effect of boomer teacher retirements. Schools had anticipated a loss of one-third of the teaching force when baby boomers began to retire in 2008. Along about the time those teachers might have expected to retire, their retirement funds, if stock-based, as most are, were pummeled by the stock market. Teachers postponed retirement. As I have explained in previous articles, experienced teachers from out of district have a difficult time getting hired. No one wants someone with proven experience because it costs money.

Once in a while, a veteran gets in. For the lucky school, these veterans teachers are a bargain. Most schools give a maximum of only five years credit for experience in figuring wages. Any teacher with more than five years experience accepts a pay cut. If the teacher has twenty or more years of experience, the school gets all the proven competence for an outrageously low price. Nevertheless, in a fit of impressive shortsightedness, many schools consider that five years experience too expensive, passing over the grizzled veteran in favor of pink-cheeked new graduates.

During the hiring frenzy, schools may have hired some of these veterans. I am unaware of any demographic study, but I wonder how many got caught in the lay-off wave of 2009. You know, last in, first out. For a boomer teacher (or any boomer) to be laid off this late in their working life is disastrous. Those in their fifties may never be fully employed again. Yet Social Security benefits may be a decade or more away.

More and more school boards have noticed their hollow teaching cadres. Lots of young, inexperienced teachers, and declining numbers of mid-career and near-retirement teachers. Years and years of short range hiring policies based on minimizing salaries by sacrificing experience have produced schools without a solid core of highly experienced teachers. It is one reason why professional development contractors have secured such a foot-hold in the schools. Once the schools have signed a contract with one of these professional development outfits, they have no more money for the independent provider.

These virtually unemployable veteran teachers would be great local professional development providers. They are intimately familiar with local conditions, needs, and perceptions. They are uniquely positioned to provide customized professional development, the sort the big outfits advertise but rarely deliver.

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