Wednesday, March 21, 2018

California and Teacher Preparation

One certain way to ruin one’s reputation is to take on an impossible task, and then fail at it. The essential qualification of any contractor is the ability to tell what is possible and what is not. Say, if you want to have a floor made of thin glass, your contractor should tell you, no, sorry, you cannot do that.

The State Legislature is asking us, the teacher preparation industry to solve the problem of teacher shortage. Our culture is that of public service, and that is true for both state-supported and private institutions. Of course, we say, “Yes, we will do our best!” The Legislature hears something slightly different, “Yes we can do it!” The difference between what we say and what they hear is tremendous, but as it is often the case, it goes unnoticed. Then we fail at what they think they heard, year after year. They get frustrated and look elsewhere, trying to deregulate teacher preparation so that almost anyone can do it, school districts, private schools, county offices, and very soon - Starbucks shops. It still does not work, for poorly selected and ill-prepared teachers stay on the job for shorter and shorter gigs. The vicious cycle is the consequence of unclear, unarticulated response on our side and wishful thinking on their side.

Of course, the State wants to solve the problem without raising teacher salaries, and without investing a dime in teacher retention. Who wouldn’t want that? The State is willing to invest some in teacher recruitment, mistakenly believing that recruitment is the main source of the problem. However, retention is far more important, and it boils down to salaries and working conditions. 

The labor economics, just like any market, works on the supply and demand balance. The reason plumbers are so expensive is that not enough people want to be become plumbers, so those who remain demand and get higher salaries. I am not an economist, but can probably find a friend who can calculate exactly at which salary point the State of California will not be short on special education and math teachers. They would come from other states, from other professions, from other segments of teachers. Credentialed, but not working teachers would come back. Is anyone interested in finding out what that salary level is? I don’t think so, not yet anyway. No one wants to hear the truth, for truth will require higher taxes.

OK, teacher preparation, don’t be a loser. The first step is to be honest about what you can and cannot do. And say it very clearly. CSU as a system has a really valuable know-how. We can prepare a fairly diverse and competent educator workforce, starting with regular students, on a massive scale. But we cannot attract many people to STEM and Special Education without achieving the economic balance. 

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