Thursday, June 9, 2022

AL: Looking For Holes In The Teacher Pipeline

Alabama has actually done a decent job of breaking down and collecting the numbers on their teacher pipeline, and while they don't draw a huge number of conclusions from the data, it's an interesting pile of numbers that may offer some lessons for other states as well.

The state government's report on teacher recruitment and retention shows that the teacher-student ratio has been improving since a peak of 16.49-1 in 2016. That's fueled by a drop in the number of students (steady for the last decade, with a big COVID dip at the end) along with an increase in the number of teachers. But a closer look shows that Alabama's awarding of traditional teacher certificates is down-- Bachelor degrees are down 26% over the last 18 years, though Masters degrees are up over the last three. The increase in teacher numbers in Alabama is mostly (90%) due to alternative and emergency certificates; since 2014, the state has actually awarded more non-traditional than traditional certificates.

The report does show success for the Alabama Math and Science Teacher Education Program (AMSTEP), which pays post-2018 grads $2,500 federal student loan repayment per semester taught in Alabama, plus additional supplemental payments if they take a job at a hard-to-staff school. That lasts for a max of four years, and it appears to help, though so far only 61 teachers are using the program. All but 2 stayed in teaching, and 45 stayed in the same school. AMSTEP has yet to use up all its available funds. But yes-- fixing it so that beginning teachers have some help with their college debt is a good idea.

A less good idea is trying to beef up the alternative pipeline by making it easier to go that route; one suggestion in the report pilot an alternative certificate by doing online modules with Teachers of Tomorrow, an on line teacher certification mill. Also, maybe lower the class hours requirement for alt certification. 

One of the big problems with goosing the alternative pipeline is covered in Alabama's own report on teacher supply and demand. Alabama's turn over rate varies by district, with 18% on the low end and a staggering 32% on the high end. The report breaks down "ends" by voluntary and involuntary, and one of the intriguing but unaddressed pieces of data is that high turnover districts have a higher voluntary rate and a way higher involuntary rate (which is mostly about single year contracts that aren't renewed). 

Alabama is having a terrible time holding on to first year teachers--over 50% leave within their first three years, which is above the national rate of 44%. And the group that has the highest rate of turnover-- that would be the non-traditional certifications. Bachelor degree teachers are retained at a rate of 69%; master degrees follow closely with 65%. Alternative certs are retained at a rate barely over 50% (emergency certs bring up the rear at under 50%). 

So I'm not sure it makes sense to try to carry more water in the buckets with the biggest holes.

Nor do I think those are holes you can fix. We know that one of the best ways to retain a teacher is for them to have a successful first couple of years, and that means preparation and support. Folks who get an alternative certificate are getting less preparation for the job. It's like offering someone a chance to get to play on an NFL team by letting them skip all the physical conditioning or earing all those bulky pads. It may be exciting right up until the first play when they get hit hard.

These reports avoid addressing other issues, like, say passing anti-LGBTQ laws that require teachers to out students who think they might be trans, or passing anti-indoctrinatin' laws, Or Alabama's unspectacular teacher pay, though the report does make some targeted pay suggestions.  

It may not be within the purview of this report, but the absence of teacher voices is notable. The most obvious steps to pursue would include finding teachers who left the profession and asking them why. Alabama has a 25% "supply gap"-- IOW. 25% of the graduates who get teaching certification do not go and get a teaching job; someone really ought to ask them why not. 

Alabama has some good ideas, like spending $4 million on a teacher mentor program, and some bad ideas, like spending $822K on Teach for America (if there's anything that TFA is not set up to address with its "teach two years then go get your real job" model, it's turnover rates). They even tried to pass a Teacher Bill of Rights in order to build respect for the professions--but it was allowed to quietly die in the legislature. 

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