School districts in Southeast Idaho have struggled to find qualified teachers.
Pocatello, American Falls and Aberdeen couldn't fill open teaching positions this year. And all three districts were forced to fill spots with student teachers, long-term substitutes and people with provisional certifications. The superintendents in all three districts fear the situation will just get worse.
“We have no one applying,” said American Falls Superintendent Ron Bolinger. “We're in a crisis.”
Dr. Doug Howell, of the Pocatello district, said recruitment efforts fell short this year and School District 25 was unable to fill six teaching positions.
“The demand is exceeding the supply,” Howell said about trying to find 90 new teachers and administrators. The district had 146 vacancies, but filled 56 of them with internal transfers.
In a memorandum shared with the Pocatello School Board last week, Howell spelled out the reality.
“The task of filling all these positions would have been impossible if not for the alternative certification solutions provided by the State Department of Education,” Howell wrote. “The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District has utilized every alternative route offered including one-year provisional authorizations, content specialist authorizations (utilizing student teaching interns from ISU and the U of I) alternative authorization — teacher to new and many computer-based (ABCTE) alternate candidates were hired.”
Pocatello Superintendent Mary Vagner told the board she feared that the new tiered-licensure plan being touted by the State Board of Education would only make things worse if approved by the Legislature.
The tiered-licensure plan offers three levels of teacher certification: a three-year non-renewable residency certificate, a professional certificate and a master professional certificate. Teacher evaluations using a method called the Danielson Model, student growth as measured by standardized tests and performance standards, are tied to a teacher’s ability to earn a professional certificate and advance between the tiers.
The Danielson Model was developed by Charlotte Danielson, a former teacher and educational consultant based in New Jersey. It is a method of evaluating teaching to determine best practices.
Vagner said in order for building principals to use the model to evaluate teachers, all of them would have to complete training in the Danielson Model and that would be an unfunded mandate from the state. She also said it is a bad idea to have building principals basically determining whether or not a teacher can be certified. The SBOE plan also calls for annual evaluations by two different administrators.
“It puts the principal in a very difficult situation,” Vagner said.
Vagner said the tiered-licensure plan seems to be punitive to teachers in nature.
“It creates anxiety in staff because of the uncertainty about pay,” Vagner said.
Bolinger also sees problems with the tiered-licensure proposal.
“The Danielson model is designed for teacher improvement, not to determine whether a person is employed, and how much they're paid,” Bolinger said.
Aberdeen School District Superintendent Jane Ward said it's been a struggle to find teachers under the existing state licensing plan, and she sees nothing but more problems if the tiered-licensure plan is approved as written.
“Teachers are upset,” Ward said. “They just won't do it (jump through the hoops required for movement in the tiered licensure plan).”
Ward said her district struggled to find teachers to fill vacancies this year and she fears the tiered-licensure plan, which locks beginning teachers into the same salary for three years, and has the ability to drop teachers' pay based on test scores and evaluations, will only make things worse.
“Our teachers are working longer hours and are getting paid the same as in 2009,” Ward said. “It's not a good situation to be in the education business right now.”
Bolinger said his teachers are very dedicated to doing the best job possible despite having furlough days because of the lack of state funding.
Math and science teachers in Pocatello, American Falls and Aberdeen have been asked to give up preparation periods each day so they can teach and keep class sizes down because positions weren't filled. The districts pay those teachers for those periods, but it leaves them without extra time to prepare lessons and grade students.
“We've managed to destroy the culture and dignity of being a teacher,” Bolinger said about public education in Idaho.
“I think we need to look at what's best for kids,” Ward said.