Monday, September 27, 2010

Framing the Teacher Market in RI

To be sure this is not a good time to be looking for a teaching job in Rhode Island, and that, in itself, is a story in a tiny state that apparently turns out about 1,000 newly certified teachers a year. But the framing and content of Jennifer Jordan's ProJo article on the subject is puzzling in a number of ways.

For example:

Providence, the state’s largest school district, hired just 39 teachers this year, 6 of whom were from the district’s long-term substitute teacher pool. Of the 33 other “new hires,” just 9 were first-year teachers, said Providence schools spokeswoman Christina O’Reilly.

But Ms. Jordan also wrote in August that:

For the first time, 34 recruits are coming to Rhode Island and at least 20 of those teachers will be hired to work in Providence’s public schools.

So... how are they counted? Aren't they "first year teachers?" What about The New Teacher Project and Providence Model Staffing Initiative? Did they add to those 9 first year teachers? Did TNTP bring in teachers from out of state?

How many of the new hires were in low-demand subjects? Several that I've heard about. Are TFA's given jobs with weird cross-disciplinary roles to make it seem like they're filling jobs that people in district can't? It sounds that way from what I hear.

What's exasperating is that it isn't like there isn't a real teacher shortage that isn't getting any better:

Rhode Island school districts are desperate for good high school math and science teachers. But fewer than 50 education students a year major in math education, and just 19 majored in biology, 4 in chemistry and 3 in physics in 2008-2009, according to data collected by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

Unfortunately, few TFA'ers have math or science backgrounds. Perhaps if TFA addressed the needs of children and communities, instead of the adults working within its bureaucratic system, they would manage to recruit a higher percentage of math and science majors.

And the RI officials quoted seem, or are made to seem, more concerned with supply glut than chronic demand issue:

“It is very likely we will continue on this demographic trend, so I think teacher training programs need to be more strategic with the labor market demands, in terms of managing their program size,” said Kenneth K. Wong, chairman of the education department at Brown University. The second priority for the state’s teacher training programs should be “quality control,” Wong says. “We need to be aggressive in making sure we are selective,” Wong said. “We have to tighten the entrance as well as introduce more rigor in our training programs so the quality is higher.”

Based on the statistics cited by the ProJo, Dr. Wong is doing a good job of managing program size. With a The New Teacher Project alum now running the history and social studies program they were apparently down to eight new teachers in that content area, which is probably less than half of what it was ten years ago (it was a boutique program even then). One might ask Dr. Wong why Brown doesn't educate teachers in high demand subjects (no math, no science other than biology apparently they've added chemistry and physics!), but in fact contributes to the trend cited by Business Week where "many of the top students (in the sciences) have been lured to careers in finance and consulting" by turning out Brown science majors with Masters in Urban Education Policy instead of teaching.

The reason Jennifer and I live in New England is that there were no teaching jobs in the Pittsburgh area when she got her MAT. We ended up in rural eastern Connecticut in a district which, thanks to its lower pay than most of the rest of the state, was a stepping stone for teachers to get their three years experience and get out before they were too expensive. And then we moved to Providence without jobs and started subbing and worked our way into the system. It wasn't that hard, even someone with a degree from Brown could figure it out.

One last point...

“For elementary teachers we have people subbing for us for five, six, seven years before they get a long-term sub assignment,” (Warwick Human Resources Director) Healey said. “You have to remember, we’ve closed three elementary schools in the past three years.

This is one major aspect of the "human capital market" in education that goes unremarked upon in the current discussion. You've got one class of people (TFA-ers) who go through this highly selective recruitment process and then are given jobs they mostly hold onto for two or three years before leaving. But you've got a much, much, much larger class of people who spend years subbing, doing their jobs, doing what they're asked to do, proving over time that they can do their job to some working definition of doing their job, with the expectation that they will eventually get a full time job. That's not necessarily a good or bad thing in itself, but it is very much the way the world works.


Jason said...

Too bad your article on Brown is a bit inaccurate. Under the leadership of Dan Bisaccio the science portion of Brown's MAT program has expanded significantly (I believe they admitted greater than 15 students, I'm unsure how many matriculated). Dan has also added preparation in both physics/engineering and chemistry through strengthening partnerships with other departments at Brown.

Also, despite your decision to attack my character, I was actually discussing earning my MAT with Dan as the first chemistry MAT at Brown when I decided to go with policy instead.

It was a personal choice. So nice of you to continue to make a mockery of it because you don't like that I was asked to assist in writing a grading policy as part of my education.

PPSD School News said...

To your question about the apparent conflict in "first-year" numbers - the numbers reported were based on outdated research. Those numbers were supplied to the Journal on July 28, when hiring was still very much in progress. A correction should be printed on Wednesday. Good observation, though not tied to the classification of TFA hires, as you speculate.