Monday, October 24, 2016

NY: Commissioner Struggles with Teacher Shortage

Maryellen Elia was brought in to the Empire State to help clean up the mess that former education honcho John King left behind.

Her results have been mixed. She invested a lot of energy in defending the Big Standardized Test, even issuing a handy propaganda kit to help push down those opt out numbers. It didn't work.

Last Friday, Elia talked to the NYS Association of Teacher Educators and the NY Association of Colleges for Teacher Education about some of the issues tied to the looming (or possibly not, or possibly already here, depending on who's talking) teacher shortage. As reported by the Times-Union, some of what she had to say was on point, and some of it indicates that she still doesn't understand the situation.

On the plus side, Elia is one policy leader who understands that more than decade of beating up on teachers and the teaching profession has not exactly made the field attractive to folks.

But folks at the meting also talked about a side-effect of test-driven accountability that has been long-predicted and now visibly concerning. Placing student teachers is becoming increasingly difficult in a world where high stakes testing season runs the schools. How can I possibly turn my class over to a pre-rookie when so much about the future of my school and my own professional career is riding on what's happening in my classroom. And the focus at this meeting was on student teachers who are hard to place at al-- that's before we even get to student teachers who get a placement, but who are not allowed to do much of anything because of concerns about the BS Tests.

Elia said that the department is working on "several efforts to boost district cooperation." But the department also made efforts to boost district cooperation and participation with the BS Test-- and they failed.

Elia addressed the exceptionally confusing mess in NY regarding subject area tests, which are transitioning except when they aren't, and which allow students to take one of a couple of options, their choice best based on judicious use of a Ouija board, since even education professors have thrown up their hands in confusion. There is no report on whether anyone specifically called Elia out on New York's use of the giant baloneyfest that is the expensive-but-useless EdTPA tests.

Elia was also called on the defend the new system by which out-of-state teachers can waltz right into a NY classroom with no additional tests or paperwork, meaning that the absolute best path for someone who wants to teach in NY is to go get certification in some other state.

Teacher education schools are understandably grumpy-- this is a direct assault on their market base. Elia defended the practice by pointing to the teacher shortage, and in her defense, I should point out that NY's solution is still far better than the many states flirting with or embracing the practice of simply issuing teaching certificates to any upright hominid with a pulse. That's what we've come to in education-- any discussion of bad policy can eventually lead us to observe that it could be worse and, in fact, somewhere (probably Florida or North Carolina) it is.

However, "not the worst policy around" is a low hurdle to clear. While from the standpoint of a Pennsylvanian who knows that our teacher ed programs are having trouble rounding up students, I think New York's policies are just swell. But as someone who cares about US public education, I'm not so impressed. Maybe as a veteran of some giant Sunshine Stare disasters, Elia can't help but cast a rosy gaze on New York policies, but I would encourage her to shoot for a more ambitious slogan than "New York education-- At Least We're Not Florida." That is not how to recruit folks for the profession.


  1. I teach at a community college in North Carolina. About ten years ago or so I remember always knowing some students who planned to major in education after transferring to a four-year school. Over the years that number has dwindled to zero. Currently, out of the dozens of students I have to talked to about career plans I do not know any who plan to go into K-12 education. If this is not a complete indictment of the past 30 years of reform, then I don't know what is.

  2. Once again, the same people who believe that 'market forces'improve everything seem to forget that market forces also heavily influence where people choose to work, and that is true when it comes to staffing schools: public, private, parochial & charter.