Sunday, June 7, 2015

Arizona's Teacher Desert

This week in the New York Times, Fernando Santos and Motoko Rich took a look at the continuing teacher shortage in Arizona, where leaders continue to demonstrate that they understand neither education nor the free market forces that they claim to love.

Arizona's history with reformster nonsense goes way back. Bill McCallum was a professor at the University of Arizona back when he became one of the co-authors of the Common Core. Arizona has long camped out at the bottom of most education lists-- spending, test results, you name it, they've sucked at it. When reformy governor Jan Brewer backed Tea Party fave Doug Ducey all the way to the capital, that was not good news for education.

Ducey brought in reformsters Paul Pastorek, obliterator-in-chief of New Orleans schools, and Joel Klein, who never met a public school that he didn't want to shut down. Pastorek and Klein showed up to help promote the idea of a charter-choice non-public school system where children carrying tax dollars in their backpacks travel from school to school begging to be admitted. At that same event, Ducey (previous job: CEO of Cold Stone Creamery) declared a need for more positive view of Arizona:

"I believe that too many have fallen into a doom-and-gloom cycle where everything is wrong, where the cynic is winning, telling others that nothing is right," Ducey said. "I say it's time we shed an inferiority complex inside this state."

It's funny-- I would think that an acolyte of Competition and Free Market Forces would recognize that a good way to shed an inferiority complex would be to take steps to stop being inferior.

That has not always been the Arizona way. A year ago their legislature was seriously discussing a bill to shut educators up, barring them from "distributing electronic materials to influence the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation." (It was shouted down in the 11th hour.) Arizona has also led the country in anti-Hispanic legislation, banning Mexican-American studies from the classroom.

Through all of this, Arizona has continued to have a teacher problem.

Last fall, Arizona schools were trying to fill teaching positions by recruiting in the Philipines. An Arizona Department of Education task force on teacher retention and recruitment issued a report in January of this year, and the picture was not pretty. Two years ago Arizona schools began the year with around a thousand unfilled teaching positions (out of a complete teaching force of a bit over 60,000). Going forward, things just look worse, with the impending retirement of up to a quarter of the current teaching force.

The report also shows the level of experience plummeting. In 1987-88, the most common experience level for teachers was 15 years. In 2011-12, it was five years. In 2013-14, 24% of first year teachers and 20% of second year teachers left their jobs "and were not reported as teaching in Arizona." In other words, just under a quarter of Arizona's newest teachers either left teaching or Arizona.

There are not too many mysteries about why Arizona cannot hold onto a complete teaching force. For starters, if you live anywhere else, you may think you know what low spending on schools looks like. But take a guess at what Arizona's per-pupil spending is, according to most recent reports--


That puts Arizona dead last in the US. So teachers in Arizona get bupkus in financial resources for meeting the needs of their students.

Can't they just fill in the gap out of their own pockets, like other teachers all across America? I'm sure they'd like to, and I'll bet many do-- but the pockets of an Arizona teacher do not run very deep. The report says that the average starting salary is $31,874. Keep in mind-- that's an average, which means that all sorts of folks are starting out a even less than that. The report notes that is an increase of 20% over 2003 starting salaries, meaning that teaching has grown far slower than "other degreed professions."

In the NYT article, we meet John-David Bowman, the 2015 Arizona Teacher of the Year. He hasn't had a raise since 2008. If he retires in twenty years, he'll do so with a salary under $50K.

Unsurprisingly, many Arizona school districts have frozen or cut spending. As the visit of Pastorek and Klein would suggest, Arizona has for years been pursuing a policy of cutting state spending, which leaves three options for local districts: A) raise local taxes to make up difference, B) let school spiral downward and be declared a distressed failure, or C) all of the above.

That man-made disaster suits some folks just fine. Among Arizona's many low, low grades in education, there is one high mark. The Center for Education Reform, a group devoted to pushing charters anywhere and everywhere, gave Arizona one of a handful of A's for being a great state for charters. The NYT article includes a quote from a parent who has reluctantly gone charter rather than send her small children into a classroom of forty students.

Protection for teachers? Well, the Fordham Institute issued a report back in 2012 ranking state teacher unions for power an influence in their states, and there we find Arizona dead last on yet another list. Arizona is a right to work state, with no collective bargaining rights. Tenure ("continuing status") still exists, but low test scores can be a reason to fire "tenured" teachers. And when furloughs are called for, districts may not consider seniority as a factor. (By which I don't mean "it might not happen" but rather "they aren't allowed to do it")

How bad is the attitude about education in Arizona? That same study of retention and recruitment includes recommendations for improving the situation. It includes recommendations for policymakers including:

* Elevate positive reinforcement for the role our educators play in ensuring success for all students
* Publicly acknowledge the value of the teaching profession and the critical need for effective teachers in all Arizona classrooms
* Help to improve the respect afforded educators
* Publicly acknowledge the value of the teaching profession

Let those sink in. The Arizona Department of Education thought these were things that policymakers needed to be told, implying that these are things policymakers didn't already know (after all, campaign consultants don't tell their candidates "Kiss babies. Say nice things about America. Remember to keep breathing.") It is bad enough in Arizona that "show teachers respect" qualifies as bold new policy advice.

So. Low pay, poor workplace resources, no job security, difficult work conditions, and no respect from state leaders. How could Arizona possibly have a teacher shortage?

You would think free market conservatives could figure this one out. If I walk into Cold Stone Creamery and say, "Give me a four scoop hot chocolate sundae with crushed nuts and strawberries, and I want to stand on that side of the counter and poke you in the nose while you make it. I'll pay you a quarter" I am not going to get my wish. If you want to purchase goods and/or services, and people won't sell them to you under the conditions you set, you have to up your offer. This is not rocket science. The invisible hand does not set prices based on what we'd like to pay; otherwise, we would all buy new cars for $1.50. But free marketeers always seem to want to bite the invisible hand that feeds them when it says that they have to fork over real money to pay for labor and materials.

The solution to Arizona's teacher shortage is neither mysterious or complicated. Pay a living wage. Take care of your schools properly. Provide the resources needed to do the job. Treat your teachers, both by word and by policy, with respect.

Ducey may have caught on, at least a little. Last Thursday he announced a plan to pump an additional $2 billion into schools. This will be financed by dipping into Arizona's state land trust permanent fund, a fund that gains money from sale of land and resources of the land held in trust by the state; currently that fund is enjoying success from stock market investments. So, yeah-- selling off publicly held resources and investing the money in the market. There's no way this could end badly.

It is tossing a bone to public schools. (Universities, which continue to take heavy hits, get no such bone.) It was greeted with "cautious optimism." But for now, I would not put Arizona on my list of Great Places To Pursue a Teaching Career. Not until Arizona policymakers indicate they have found stopped wandering in the desert and have finally located a clue.


  1. Peter,

    The situation is even more catastrophic
    if you head north to Nevada, and
    this is what's coming to the rest of
    the country.

    The situation for teacher in both states
    are like two canaries in a coalmine...

    Or the tip of the sword... or the earliest
    echo of the coming avalanche...

    whatever... it's early... and I can't
    find the right metaphor.

    This is what ed reform has wrought...
    the de-professionalization of teaching...
    and the downgrading of the caliber of
    the teaching force. Check out this quote
    (from the link BELOW):

    "'I feel like I'm being challenged, which is a definite change," says first-year teacher Jessica Adams. She used to work as a cocktail server at the Planet Hollywood casino and resort on the Vegas strip. Unfulfilled with that career, she joined a fast-track teacher training program to get into the classroom.

    Server Jessica is now Ms. Adams, the fourth-grade teacher.

    "I really enjoy being with the kids and making a difference instead of serving tables," she says with a chuckle.

    The 26-year-old, who has a college degree in hospitality management, now works the floor in a temporary classroom trailer at Robert Forbuss Elementary, an overcrowded school in southwest Las Vegas.

    Now, Jessica... if you're out there reading this, I don't mean to denigrate low-level service work such as cocktail waitressing, or degrees in "hospitality management", but as kids these days say, "WTF!" (What the f-word!)

    Are Bill Gates kids at Lakeside being taught by cocktail waitresses with a couple weeks "training"? Obama's kids? Rahm Emanuel's? Michelle Rhee's? Campbell Brown's?

    The enrollment at ed departments are dropping like an elevator ride at a Disney park... and current teachers are fleeing teaching like... like... like... I can't think of any more metaphors ...

    So what do they have to do in places where this crisis is being felt earliest---and there's no union, or an extremely weak union (i.e. right-to-work-FOR-LESS states)?


  2. "Universities, which continue to take heavy hits, get no such bone."

    While I recognize the harm to society when public higher education falls, I can't feel too sorry for universities themselves. They've been remarkably silent for the past decade and a half in the face of the assault on public K-12 education. Did they think they'd be spared? When they came for the K-12 teachers, I didn't speak up because I wasn't a K-12 teacher. When they came for the university professors, there was no one left to speak up.

    1. Dienne,

      I think one reason Universities have "been silent" is that they operate in a system that resembles universal charter school networks more than resembling traditional public schools.

  3. Again, let's take a trip to Sin City, U.S.A. and find out
    about the teacher shortage there:

    "Las Vegas: Betting On New Teachers But Coming Up Short"

    The title of the NPR piece is wrong; those in charge in Clark County and Las Vegas are most certainly NOT "betting on" teachers. "Betting" implies you're putting money on the table on the square marked "teachers". They're doing nothing of the kind. They're only betting on... or hoping... that they can continue "cheaping out" on what they have to pay teachers. They believe that they do this, in part, by coming up with ridiculous gimmicks to get teachers to work in lousy conditions and for lousy pay.

    Back to NPR:


    Many veteran educators here say the shortage is undermining morale and student learning.

    "It shouldn't necessarily all be put on the veteran teachers to help the new teachers," says fifth-grade teacher Rob Rosenblatt. The shortage and overcrowding issues, he says, mean more work and more stress for teachers.

    The district increasingly relies on long-term substitutes and online classes to help plug the holes. And there is a critical shortage of qualified substitutes.

    Sarah Sunnasy teaches fifth grade at Bertha Ronzone Elementary School. She has back trouble but says she almost never calls in sick.


    "I've come to school on days where I cried trying to get out of bed," Sunnasy says. "Because I know if I try to call in a sub, there is not going to be anybody there. And I'm not gonna put that pressure on the people that I work with to split my class or cover my class."

    Last school year in the district about 500 teachers quit without giving any reason. One of Rosenblatt's colleagues resigned a few weeks into the new school year. Rosenblatt says he and a colleague have had to pick up all the slack — lessons, report cards, grading and tests.

    "Basically it was the two of us teaching not just our two classes but a third class on top of it. I even told my kids, 'I'm neglecting you guys.' "

    He apologized to his regular class but told them he had to step in because the class next door "just wasn't getting the education they deserved."

    CONTINUED on next post:

  4. Things there are so godawful that to solve the problem, those in charge
    even come up with this idiotic "superhero" teacher recruiting campaign where
    Las Vegas' (i.e. Clark County's) anti-union school superintendent Pat Skorkowsky
    went zip-lining through downtown Las Vegas like a superhero to drum
    up publicity, and where all human resource dept. workers now wear superhero capes.

    I'm not kidding... watch this video of this blithering idiot soaring through the air:

    Hey, Pat Skorkowsky... why don't you just pay educators a decent, (union-negotiated?) salary, with decent benefits, job conditions, etc.? This is a profession, not a low-level service job like cocktail waitressing!!! No... the rich Red States' folks don't want their taxes raised.

    The Ed Week article BELOW has Staci Vesneske, the district's chief human resources officer, implicitly dismissing the notion of raising teachers' salaries will be part of the campaign. There's more details about the "superhero" campaign

    ED WEEK: "One challenge in attracting candidates is wages. The starting salary for teachers there is just under $35,000, less than the national average and lower than other similarly sized urban districts. (The 2012-13 national average teacher starting salary was $36,141.) But that number may appear deceptively low, Vesneske said, because district employees do not pay for Social Security withholdings—the district covers those costs—and there are other financial perks that may make the salary worthwhile, she said.

    "The need for teachers is more crucial in the elementary grades, but the district is looking for candidates in high-need areas such as math, science and special education, Vesneske said. Of the 2,600 teacher candidates the district is seeking, at least 1,000 will be elementary teachers, she said.

    " 'We are still looking for quality,' she said."


    ...but we don't want to have to pay anything for it....
    she should have added.

  5. The top comment from the Ed Week article of Vegas' teacher shortage crisis---written by one "Sir Johnny", nails it:

    9:19 PM on April 10, 2015

    Sir Johnny:

    "$35,000 / year doesn't cut it anymore. Trying purchasing a house for that amount of money as a single person. You want me to fork out $85K for a bachelor's degree (what Pitt or Penn State now cost) and you can only pay $35K ... nope, not going to happen. Doesn't matter if you are paying both sides of Social Security or not. Pay needs to be around $60K/year to make it worthwhile."

    Another comment from "eppie", a licensed veteran teacher in Nevada, says that it's not all about money:


    7:18 AM on April 11, 2015


    "As a licensed Nevada teacher for both elementary and middle school (including math and science), I will not go back in the class room until Common Core, the SBAC testing, and the student data tracking, storing and sharing, is removed from our state. The article failed to mention the reason many NV teachers retired early is because of Common Core."

  6. And not just pay, Common Core and testing, overcrowded classrooms have to be another reason for quitting. Even if you pay decently and get more teachers, class size has to be a priority too.

  7. I'm looking at the survey questions from this study you hyper-linked at:

    Here's a shocker (on p. 29 of the Appendix):


    "Question 14: In general, educators who were recruited out of Arizona typically remain in a district / charter school...

    "ANSWER .......................................RESPONSES

    "A) 0 - 2 years .................................. 40.94 %

    "B) 3 - 5 years .................................. 48.32 %

    "C) more than 5 years ..................... 10.74 %

    Holy sh%& !

    That's an attrition rate of 41% leaving at 2 years or less. (i.e. more than 4-out-of-ten, more than 40-out-of-100)


    an attrition rate of 89.26 % (call it 9-out-of-10, or 90-out-of-100... leaving at 5 years or less ... i.e. combined number of those leaving 0 - 2 years AND 3-5 years)

    That's just staggering.

    It must just flat out suck to work as a teacher in that state.

    Also, keep in mind that 31 schools surveyed refused to answer this question, with 149 answering. One can presume that many or all of those schools among the "31" did not have promising answers to that question that they wished to share.

  8. Here's more from the HuffPost about Nevada's teacher shortage, and the lame-brained "superhero" recruiting campaign:

    It's more of the same, including a different video of Superintendent Douchebag zip-lining through the air. The district says it will attempt to address route causes for the teacher shortage such as "job dissatisfaction" and "lack of respect", but once again, raising teacher salaries is, as the British say, "right out". The same goes for lowering class sizes.

    The COMMENTS are better than the article. Here's a sampling:

    "Theo Dolittle · Top Commenter

    "After busting their unions, driving their pay down, making them pay for school supplies out of their own salaries and blaming them for the state of education in our country, they are having trouble finding people who want the job? Go figure.

    Tom Donohue · Top Commenter · San Francisco State University

    Teacher abuse is driving good teachers away, so they are retiring if possible. Can't tell you how many teachers I"ve come across in the last 10 yrs who have quit due to inhumane working conditions such as low pay, no classroom to teach in, no supplies for classroom, etc. I taught science for 20 yrs and had to quit as I had no classroom to teach biology in (which needs bunson burners etc.) and was bullied by the vice principal - much more but not enough space to write it all down here.I've met many other teachers who say the same thing.

    Paul Vankat · Top Commenter · Owner at Aztec Business Group

    America needs to wake up. When the likes of Scott Walker blame teachers for all the states' problems, who wants to teach? Teaching used to be a respected occupation. Fewer and fewer people now are going into education. Here in Nevada, they fast-track principals who have next-to-no classroom experience. The last 4 Nevada Governors have cut spending to the bone. There are no supplies and almost no specialists to handle special kids. You have special needs kids and behavioral problem kids mixed in with the rest of the population. You can't teach 30 kids when 2 or 3 get all the attention. I, for one, am glad I got my kids through Nevada schools. I would probably not let them attend public education right now. I do not blame the teachers for that.

    Nancy Navarro-Agustin · Top Commenter · Nova Southeastern University

    And now, they are taking away teachers' retirement benefits! Good luck attracting applicants with low wages and no retirement! Not to mention indifferent parents and could-care-less community!
    Oi Vay!

  9. Recently there was a bill introduced in the RI General Assembly--The Bright Today Scholarship and Open Enrollment Education Act--allowing families to choose any school: public (in or out of their district), private, parochial, online, or homeschool, and bring taxpayer "scholarship" money with them. The sponsoring group, the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity, spoke admiringly at the Hearing about the Arizona school choice bill and exclaimed over how great it was for kids, especially special needs kids. They enthused that this idea is taking off across the country and RI should get in on it. A few minutes of googling had revealed that much of the language of the bill was lifted from ALEC model legislation. At least there is not much chance in RI for that egregious bill to become law. The extent to which public education in many states has already been eroded is shocking and despicable.

  10. Arizona is home to Lisa Graham Keegan, famous (i.e. notorious) for her campaign to "put the money in the backpack". As state superintendent in the 90's, she forged the path for AZ to be a leader in the privatization efforts that are now a big feeding frenzy across the nation.

  11. I guess they're not recruiting in North Carolina even though the unofficial slogan there seems to have gone, in a few short years, from "working to be the best in the Southeast" to "almost as good as Mississippi is good enough."

  12. $9 Million Fraud Judgment Against Antony Gordon In Federal Court

    This fraud judgment has led to Antony Gordon Los Angeles Chapter Seven bankruptcy, which is a straight liquidation.
    This (2:13-ap-01536-DS 1568931 Ontario Ltd., an Ontario (Canada Corporati v. Gordon et al) looks like a $9 million dollar fraud judgment in federal court against Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon (an attorney, motivational speaker, and hedge fund manager).

  13. I appreciate the depth and knowledge you reported about Arizona's education crisis. It is beyond frustrating to be a citizen of Arizona, with children in the schools and be a college education student with hopes of teaching in AZ. Hopefully AZ has finally woken up to the problem...Check out my blog out the situation:

  14. Arizona is a far cry away from "waking up to the problem." I'm an Arizona Special Education Teacher, with a Masters Degree, and five years experience, who is done, done, done. Arizona education is deplorable. I quit teaching! I have many other talents. Arizona- It's YOUR loss!