Commentary

Solution to looming teacher shortage: Higher pay

A post today at the website Higher Education Works neatly cuts through the b.s. today on the issue of what North Carolina must do to address the shortage of quality schoolteachers – now and in the future:

Commentary: Teacher shortage? Pay them.

North Carolina faces a looming crisis – a shortage of teachers. But putting and keeping great teachers in the classroom isn’t rocket science.

Pay them.

Gov. Pat McCrory likes to point out that North Carolina is now the 9th most-populous state in the nation. The governor also talks about responding to the marketplace. Markets are about supply and demand.  And as our population grows, the demand for education is not subsiding in North Carolina. Far from it.

Yet the market indicates that not enough public university students – or their parents – think education pays enough to justify a career in teaching. As North Carolina approaches 10 million people, enrollment in the state’s public schools of education is down 27% over five years. Enrollment declined 12% from 2013 to 2014 alone.

Ellen McIntyre, dean of the School of Education at UNC Charlotte, told the UNC Board of Governors recently that the crisis over teacher pay that ranks near the bottom in the nation has given would-be enrollees “a little bit of a pause.”

While a starting salary of $33,000 might sound acceptable to an 18-year-old, McIntyre said, “It’s their parents who don’t want them to go (into teaching). It’s their parents who are dissuading them from going into schools of education.”

Raises state legislators approved for teachers last year were tilted toward the bottom end of the pay scale. To his credit, McCrory supports raising starting teacher pay to $35,000. The governor also supports pay supplements for teachers with advanced degrees or who teach in high-demand fields or impoverished school districts.

“That’s adapting to the marketplace,” he said. “Sometimes the marketplace requires you to pay more to certain teachers if they’re willing to teach in areas where others don’t want to teach.”

Over the past year, a subcommittee of the UNC Board of Governors – which oversees the 17-campus university system – developed seven recommendations to improve teacher preparation in UNC system schools. They include:

  • Increased partnerships between university colleges of education and public schools;
  • Year-long clinical training modeled on medical education;
  • Merit scholarships for students willing to teach in high-need subjects; and
  • Increased support for early-career teachers.

But other than a recommendation for pay supplements for teachers with advanced degrees, the board’s recommendations are silent about teacher pay.

NC Teacher of the Year James Ford, a history teacher at Garinger High School in Charlotte, was a lone voice for increasing teacher salaries as the Board of Governors heard the recommendations.

After a long day at school, many teachers still worry about paying for groceries, Ford said – 52% of public school teachers have a second job.

No, a fatter paycheck isn’t the answer to all that ails public education. Ford said mentors to guide development in a teacher’s early years are critical as well. And few teachers would say they went into teaching for the money.

But Higher Education Works supports better pay for teachers. North Carolina’s public universities remain the largest supplier of teachers to the state’s public schools:  At least 35,000 of the state’s 95,000 teachers, or 37 percent, graduated from our state’s public universities.

And they deserve a living wage.

“This teaching’s hard!” McCrory said as he recounted his own first day as a student teacher, when he ran out of material 10 minutes into class.

We need the best teachers possible to prepare the college students of the future.

Teaching should be revered as a profession reserved for the best students – as it is in Finland, where the education system consistently ranks among the best in the world.

Those best students, in turn, will proceed to motivate and prepare the next generation of students for college. Higher education and public schools are mutually dependent – one feeds the other.

And if we listen to the marketplace, sometimes that marketplace whispers that if you don’t have enough students pursuing the path to become a teacher, perhaps teachers should be paid more. When supply falls short of demand, prices tend to rise.

Sometimes the marketplace whispers.  Sometimes it shouts…

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