Because Paying Teachers More Makes Too Much Sense

Utah is facing a teacher shortage. Utah pays its teachers 30% less than professionals with similar education and training. So, Utah decides to raise teacher pay across the board and boost salaries for incoming teachers. It might also decide to revamp teacher training programs to encourage professionals who aren’t licensed to become teachers — a more attractive proposition now that pay has been boosted to be comparable or — gasp — better than similarly trained professionals.

Wait. Stop right there. The above scenario makes too much sense. Paying teachers more would both encourage existing professionals to stay in the field AND entice college students to consider teaching as a career option. This would stop the exodus of teachers while providing a pool of talent ready to begin teaching careers.

So, of course, Utah is now allowing school districts and charter schools to hire teachers with no teacher training. At all.

Education Week has the story:

In June, the Utah State Board of Education voted to create an alternative pathway to obtaining a teaching license, under which school districts and charter schools can hire individuals with relevant professional experience, particularly in hard-to-staff areas like computer science or mathematics. To be hired as a teacher through this pathway, applicants need a bachelor’s degree, must pass the state test required for teacher certification, and must complete an educators’ ethics review and pass a background check.

The new pathway, which is intended to curb the state’s teacher shortage, drops a previous requirement that these prospective teachers take college teacher-training courses. Instead, after being hired, the new teachers go through three years of supervision and mentoring from a veteran educator before receiving licensure.

This action devalues the teaching profession and ignores the fact that unless the value proposition improves, it will continue to be difficult to find teachers to fill vacancies.

Would you hire a lawyer who had a college degree, no legal training, and was simply working at a law firm to “learn the profession?”

You might get a lot more people attempting to become lawyers if they could forego three years of law school, take a basic legal test, and then go to some firm willing to hire them. But, you’d also get a lot more people leaving the profession.

If we create an environment where anyone can become a teacher, we might attract more people to attempt it, but there’s a reason 50% of those who start teaching quit within the first five years. Teaching is hard. Oh, and it doesn’t pay well.

Strangely, this is an argument for providing more and better training to prospective teacher candidates, not just throwing in anyone who can pass a test and has a college degree. Creating a system wherein teachers served in a longer term internships could provide the field experience necessary to better determine which candidates had both the aptitude and desire to become full-time teachers.

Policymakers are choosing the “anyone who is breathing can teach” option because it is cheaper. And they want teachers to be cheaper. They are already getting away with paying them 30% less in Utah and around 23% less nationwide. Why not drive down costs even more?

Investing in teachers — by improving teacher training programs and providing both better pay and more support — would require the expenditure of political capital. It would also require spending real money. Sadly, politicians in Utah and in much of our country aren’t willing to invest in what works for our children. And yes, improving pay works.

So, instead of doing what makes sense, we have states throwing “solutions” against the wall to see if they can delay the inevitable.


For more on education politics and policy, follow @TheAndySpears



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