Transcription of the episode “Solving teacher shortages: It’s not just pay”

[00:00:15] Jon M: I’m Jon Moscow. 

[00:00:16] Amy H-L: And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools. Our guests today are Dr. Katherine Norris and Dr. Kathryn Wiley. Dr. Norris is associate professor and chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education at Howard University. Dr. Wiley is assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, also in the School of Education at Howard. They’re co-authors of an article in Education Week titled “It will take more than $60,000 salaries to solve the teacher shortage.” Welcome, Dr. Norris and Dr. Wiley. 

[00:00:54] Katherine N: Good afternoon and welcome to you both. 

[00:00:58] Kathryn W: Yea, thank you. 

[00:01:00] Jon M: What are the major factors contributing to the teacher shortage? 

[00:01:05] Katherine N: I think that’s a really good question. I think that those of us that are in teacher ed were really prepared for this shortage. We knew the shortage was coming before it came. I think that high retirement rates was the number one factor prior to 2020, and then this pandemic expedited that those rates. And then also we had this whole attack on public education that also has impacted, so we have several pandemics that are happening side by side that caused this teacher shortage to speed up.

[00:01:44] Kathryn W: I think it’s helpful to put some numbers on things, too. Some of the figures that at least I’ve seen, and Katherine let me know if maybe you know of other numbers, but basically last year about 50% of schools were operating without a full teaching staff and the rates of schools operating without a full teaching staff, schools that had at least one vacancy, were more likely to either be schools with majority of low income students, but also more so than income, majority student of color schools actually had more vacancies or were more likely to have a vacancy compared to predominantly white schools. And those vacancies are in those areas of special ed, ESL, and computer science. So even just looking at the issue, putting some numbers and some of the top positions that currently are vacant, I think can help inform the conversation, too.

[00:02:46] Amy H-L: What is the American Teacher Act and what does it provide? 

[00:02:50] Katherine N: We can both talk a little bit about the American Teacher Act. So in February of 2023, we noted Congresswoman Wilson and Congressman Bowman introduced the act. And so basically what the act did, it wanted to address this idea of the teacher shortage in our country, and it wanted to focus on several really big key items. One was teacher salary. We wanted to address teacher salary to make sure that it is competitive and that we can bring the teachers in and not only bring them in, but retain them. The other thing that it wanted to focus on, the act wanted to focus on recruitment and retention of college students and high school students into the teaching profession. And finally, last but not least, was to diversify the teacher workforce, which was something that there was a critical need to do. So this act attempted to address those three areas, and so we’re excited about the act. And Dr. Wiley brought it to my attention because it wasn’t even on my radar at the time that it came up. So we decided to put our heads together and really take a look at the act and think about how we felt about it and what we thought that it was doing. And although we were excited about it, we thought that there were some things that we wanted to focus on and make sure that it is addressing it and addressing students of color in a way that it needed to.

[00:04:12] Kathryn W: Yeah, our offices are right across the street from each other, basically right across the hallway. And I remember walking over there and saying, “Hey Katherine, did you hear about this?” And that’s kind of what launched us taking this on together. 

[00:04:27] Jon M: In addition to salaries, what are some of the ways that it proposes to address recruitment and retention and diversifying the number of teachers? 

[00:04:38] Katherine N: Salary was the big one because we know when we hear about the teacher shortage, a big complaint about the teacher shortage, a big complaint that teachers have is the lack of salary. So that was a really big one, and I think that them proposing to have a minimum salary of $60,000 was critical. 

In addition, they suggest a large campaign to bring up the teacher profession and to talk about what’s good about the teacher profession. And I think a campaign is something that we haven’t seen. And so this idea of having a campaign and making sure that everyone knows what is good about the teacher profession is a big thing, but also focusing on diversity.

One of the things that it also proposes besides this idea of the salary is to look at the schools locally. The money is given to the state, and then the districts have an opportunity to apply for the money. But to fund those schools that are not being funded the way they need to be funded because we know in our country we have a long history of inequity when it comes to funding in our public school system. So this takes a look at some of those hardest hit and hardest need areas and offers funding opportunities in those areas to do things like reduce class size, to provide the resources that are necessary in our schools, to address some of those hard hit areas so that the teachers can be retained in those schools.

[00:06:05] Jon M: What are some things that you’d like to see in it that aren’t in it? 

[00:06:11] Katherine N: That’s a really good question and I’ll, I’ll give my answer and then let Dr. Wiley do the same. So I think it was for four years, so I worry what happens after four years. What does that look like? Do these salaries continue? How do we support the gains that we made after that four year grant period is up?

The other thing that I was hoping or would like to see a little bit more continuity across the district. So for example, if the states are given money, how do we ensure that that money ends up in the hands of the schools that are most in need? If the schools have to apply for the money, what does that look like? So some of those things I would like to have seen addressed in the act where, we could hear, okay, this is what it looks like, these are the steps and this is how it happens. Because I worry that the districts or the schools that are in most need won’t get their hands on that money in the way so I would like to have seen that. 

I would like to also have seen a more detailed plan of how we’re going to recruit these diverse teachers and diverse administrators in our school systems. 

[00:07:19] Jon M: When you mentioned that it’s for a period of four years, a couple of questions. One is, is the salary requirement also just for four years or is that something that would be a mandate beyond that? And if so, would it be a funded mandate or simply a mandate? 

[00:07:37] Katherine N: That’s something that I did not see outlined. I saw that it’s for four years. I did see that it takes into account inflation in each year of the program, but I didn’t see it written out, and maybe it is written out somewhere and I just didn’t see the details of it. But it talks about over the next few years providing the opportunity for districts to raise the salaries and then to keep in track of inflation over the four years. I didn’t see much of a conversation about what happens afterwards, and maybe it’s there and it just hasn’t been laid out for the public. I’m not sure. 

[00:08:12] Amy H-L: Would you talk about the DC Social Studies standards, which I understand were approved but not without some pushback. 

[00:08:22] Katherine N: So DC did adopt brand new standards. I think it was May, around May or June, that they approved these standards. There was a committee that worked really hard on making sure that those standards were equity-based, making sure that they included anti-racism, and making sure that they included true history, right, of DC and history of our people, history of what happened in this country. So they worked, the committee worked really, really hard. I had an opportunity to review those social studies standards and I was excited that they were approved and I hope that other states will move forward and move in that direction to come up with these standards and to recognize that teaching equity is what we need to be doing in our public school systems. We know that there has been legislation taking out this idea or this concept of teaching equity in our schools and, and these DC standards are a pushback and saying, No, we’re not going to take them out. Not only are we going to not take them out, but we’re going to focus on truth. Truth in education, truth in teaching, right. Truth in history, and equity-based standards in our classrooms.” 

[00:09:35] Jon M: You had mentioned when we were speaking before that there was pushback to this even in DC, but that you were able to overcome it. And since obviously in a lot of the conversations we have with people, they’re encountering a lot of pushback at this point. If you could talk a little bit about what that process was like and how you managed to to get to where they needed to get to. 

[00:09:59] Katherine N: Yes. So one of the things that the committee did, and I was not on the committee, but I did review so I was involved at the, with the process from the beginning to the end. One of the things that they did was made sure that they had a diverse group of individuals working on standards. Also, a public forum where people can have an opportunity to review and offer feedback as well. Whenever you propose something new, you’re going to get some pushback from people. I think that DC is a space where we are a little more liberal and a little more understanding and a little more ready to handle and to tackle equity in most spaces. So I think that pushback looks different than it may have looked in maybe Florida or Texas. So when standards are presented, the public has an opportunity to speak out and public spoke out, and there were some people who weren’t for them, but they were eventually voted on and approved.

[00:10:58] Jon M: Curriculum battles are not new. Could you talk about some of the past curriculum battles and possibly how they were ultimately resolved? Dr. Wiley, could you to speak to this at all? 

[00:11:11] Kathryn W: Yeah. The curriculum battles that we’re seeing now are definitely not new. ” Color in the Classroom” is a great book by Zoe Berkholder, and she looks at an era from about 1900 to 1954 and looks at some of these earlier curriculum battles, I guess you could call them. And if I can remember now, it’s been a few years since I finished grad school. But basically, I think she looked at some of the 1920s and 1930s and during the big immigration influxes into the US there, there were essentially teachers and schools that were promoting a tolerance kind of curriculum, the forerunner to what we might call like multiculturalism and multicultural education. And during the twenties and thirties we see that there are also those who are opposed to this kind of tolerance curriculum and are promoting more nationalistic sorts of positions. So that’s all to say that these curriculum battles themselves are not new. And I think it looks like they’ve typically been characterized by either attempts to expand the idea of who is an American and who are we and what makes this society great versus narrower ideas about that. And certainly, of course education itself and we look at African American history curriculum what’s happening in Florida and in other places, right. That battle is so long in this country. So certainly what we’re seeing today is not without precedent, but that’s a great book for any audience members who want to know more about what was happening in large urban districts in the early 20th century around that issue.

[00:12:51] Jon M: Would you like to repeat the name of the book for, for our listeners? 

[00:12:55] Kathryn W: Yeah, it’s called “Color in the Classroom: How American Schools Taught Race” and the author is Zoe Berkholder. 

[00:13:04] Jon M: Great. We’ll post that on our website also. 

[00:13:07] Amy H-L: We’ve talked about the general teacher shortage, but there’s an even more acute shortage of Black teachers. Why is this the case? 

[00:13:15] Katherine N: That’s a good question. In 2016, the US Department of Education put out a report on teacher diversity in the educator workforce. And one of the things that we noticed is that the teachers of color are not representative of the students that are in our public school classrooms. And even though there has been a slight increase in teachers of color over the years, it does not compare to the increase of students of color in our classrooms. And the increase we see when we break it down by demographics, we see that our Hispanic and Latina teachers have increased. We see that an increase in our biracial teachers, but when we look at the demographics for Black teachers, we’re seeing that the numbers have fallen. When we look at history, we know that the numbers of Black teachers in our classrooms has been continuously falling since Brown versus the Board of Education. And we know that Brown versus the Board of Education was historical and we know that it brought back, or it brought a lot of really critical, important work into education, but we also know that it, there were some hidden consequences of Brown versus Board of Education, and one of the hidden consequences was the loss of Black teachers in the classroom. 

Prior to Brown versus Board of Education, if you were Black and you were college educated, the teaching profession was the go-to profession. So once Brown happened and opened up opportunities for Black students to do other things, they made other choices. Not that those choices were better or worse, just different choices because they had different opportunities. We also know that there was a high influx of firing Black teachers, getting Black principals out of our schools, and closing of Black schools, all which also impacted. So we have a couple of things that are coming together that impact why our Black teachers aren’t in the classroom. 

And over the last two years, three years, since 2020, we know that Black teachers have been leaving the classroom and they’re suffering from something that William Smith calls “racial battle fatigue” in the classroom. And we’re talking about dealing with all these issues of race, all of this legislation that’s happening, that’s talking about not being able to teach the truth, and also the harshness of what’s going on in the classrooms that these teachers are teaching in. 

[00:15:43] Kathryn W: Yeah. And just to connect into that, recently there was a study published by Frank et al and this was an AERA article. And they actually created a study to, survey 325 Black math teachers. And they found that the teachers reported experiencing a lot of microaggressions, racial microaggressions, in the workplace, and that experiences of these racial microaggressions actually accounted for more of the reason to possibly leave the job than did pay inequities related to gender and also to age. They were able to really look at the experiences, particularly of Black math teachers, in that study with that big takeaway being that racial discrimination in the workplace was actually a bigger factor than pay or discrimination on other axes of identity. 

And Rand, last year, did an interview study and a survey, and kind of like Katherine and I were arguing in that EdWeek piece, the Rand conclusion was basically that recruiting and retaining teachers of color is going to take more than that pay raise. They, just like the Frank Study, found that a majority, well, about a third of teachers and actually half of all principals of color had reported incidents of racial discrimination in the workplace within the last year, and that colleagues in the buildings were the sources of these incidents.

Those two studies really helped provide some numbers and some information around what this looks like in the workplace today. I think that’s a good point that that study brought out because a lot of, a lot of the talk has been around salaries, but we know that most teachers don’t quit because of salaries, and most teachers don’t go into teaching because of the salaries. So yes, we do want the salaries raised, but that’s not the only issue that exists. 

[00:17:41] Amy H-L: Brian Jones of the New York Public Library, who’s been a guest on this podcast, has criticized charter school advocates such as Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. This is in part because charter schools often hire white teachers, whereas Black teachers are mainly working in district schools. Do you agree with Brian? 

[00:18:06] Katherine N: That’s a good question. I think that for a long time, since the onset of charter schools, we’ve had a tension between charter schools and public schools, and we talk about this idea of whom should we support or what makes sense for us to support and whom does it benefit. I think that we know that our parents, our Black and brown parents especially, or our high income parents, they want alternatives for their students. They want a place for them to go where they can feel safe today. So even though our ultimate goal is public education and we want to support public education, I think that there’s a tension and there’s a need that Geoffrey Canada with the Harlem Children’s Zone or other places. They’re meeting an immediate need today, right. And they’re giving a space for Black and brown children to go. And so that what it does is it kind of dilutes the pool. I think a lot of people struggle with that. So, I don’t know, because when I think about, I’m all for public education. I went to school in the Philadelphia public school system, graduated in public education. I taught in public school systems for over 18 years in Philadelphia. So I’m always a proponent of public schools, but I also do recognize sometimes that there is a need for something else. So I’m really not sure. I feel like I kind of stand on the fence with that, but my allegiance is to public schools. I’ll say this and then I’ll let Dr. Maybe Dr. Wiley chime in. I think that in some areas, in some districts, the charter and the public have been able to work well together, right. And have been able to share a space and have been able to provide a good quality education to the students in need. But I think ultimately we need a public education system that works. We need a public education system that is supporting our students and our families and communities, and we need it across the board so that we can eliminate the need for a private school or a charter school or a Catholic school, or maybe not Catholic because that’s a religious base, but do you see what I mean? If we have those support systems and those resources in our public school system, then we can eliminate the need for alternatives. 

[00:20:28] Kathryn W: Yeah, I really agree. I can’t necessarily speak to the question of the teaching force around it. But when I think about education resourcing more broadly and public education, I hold some things in tension. Recently I was visiting a friend who has two young sons and one of her sons has had a really hard time in public schools. He’s always the kid that’s getting in trouble and I’ve heard her on the phone calls with the administrators trying to figure this out. And in some ways I hold up that story because there are so many parents in that position, and sometimes that teaching and learning happens, it does work for some and not for other children, right, the traditional model of schooling. But at the same time, I do believe that if we supported public education and had more resources just more broadly in public education, that that they could be designed in ways that would support all learners. Now you know that for her as a mother, the question becomes “Can I find a school where my son is going to thrive because maybe he needs more, he needs to be able to get up and wiggle and he needs more hands-on kinds of activities.” These are the reasons that that parents, possibly, right, there are a lot of reasons and we have good research around, but choose to go into a charter school. Because they’re looking for another option. But I agree that we have to invest in public schools, and if they had adequate and well-designed models of public schools, she wouldn’t have to make that choice.

[00:22:00] Jon M: Derek Black of the University of South Carolina, who’s also been a guest on this podcast, and others have argued that beyond curriculum battles as such, there’s now a substantial attack on public education in and of itself. Would you agree?

[00:22:19] Katherine N: Agree. I don’t, I don’t think it’s new. I don’t think it’s new. I think that we’ve seen this since the beginning of the country on who’s excluded from a public education or who’s excluded from education, period. Learning to read, learning to write. So I don’t think that this is a new thing. I think that there is an attack on public education, and I think that we need to recognize the importance of supporting public education and how it benefits not just one segment or one population of children over the other, but it benefits the country as a whole for us to back and to get behind public education and to support it. If we’re going to be competitive in the global workforce, we need a public school, a public education that is successful and that is successful not just for some, but for all students. We need to rethink how we are funding our school systems so that there is more equity in the funding across and that there aren’t these pockets of schools for Black and brown students or low income students that aren’t being properly funded. Right. So yeah, there’s a attack on public education and we need to stand behind it, those of us that are in education. 

[00:23:31] Kathryn W: Yeah, I completely agree. I think it kind of goes back to these ideas about the purpose of education and obviously the education for work model. It is a function. And the idea of social mobility. These ideas that we have in terms of the relationship between school and work in the economy.

But we also have got to be, I think, re-messaging, if you will, public education as a democratic good, as a good for our democracy. Because it is the rare place where it is the opportunity potentially for people from so many different walks of life to come together across the K-16+ system in this country. There is something so special and unique about that vision. I think part of supporting public education has got to be bringing people into a narrative about it as a necessity for a democracy, not just for the economy and not just for international security. I mean all these things are true, but the vision around it as something of a democratic good, not a partisan good, but for our democracy, I think is a messaging and a framing that we need to maybe re-uplift. I’m sure history repeats itself, so I’m sure we did that. Maybe we just need to bring it back. 

[00:24:47] Jon M: I was thinking, as you were talking about it as a central element in a democracy, because it should be a place where all sorts of people come together. But it’s also what seems to me to be really important also is that it’s one of the few places where you have an automatic right to be, that it’s not one where you have to get accepted or somebody else has to approve you, but your right is fundamentally to be there. And of course a lot of the battles that go on are for people to have to assert that, right, and make sure that it is meaningful. But at least the underlying aspect of it is the right of the parent and the student to make the choice and to want to be there rather than of, say, directors of a school or somebody else to decide whether they want to have you in their school or not.

[00:25:41] Katherine N: And that’s relatively new. It’s a new concept because for Blacks, we didn’t have the right, according to this country, to be there and to be in that space. So that’s something that, just as you said, that we had to fight for, and now we want to make sure that we are not turning back the hands of time and we are not moving to a space where there’s no public education or that we have to get acceptance into a school system or that kind of thing. So yeah, you’re head on about that. 

[00:26:15] Amy H-L: What do you think is needed to get bills such as the American Teacher Act expanded and passed?

[00:26:24] Katherine N: So, that’s a good question. I think that education is always something that the public needs to hear about. They need to hear some of these issues. They need to be able to have conversations about it and understand what these acts do and/or what’s at risk if we don’t have these acts. I don’t think that people recognize how how critical this teacher shortage is and how critical the teacher of color shortage is. So I think educating the public is really important. I was just at a conference of the Association of Teacher Educators yesterday and the superintendent of, I think it was Fairfax School, they did a whole campaign on what is equity, because so many people were fighting against it, but didn’t even really understand what it was.

Much like that, there needs to be a campaign or a conversation about why public education is important, what needs to be happening, and what that looks like. So I would say number one is to educate the public. Number two is to make sure that we are in alignment, and I think that there needs to be some revamping in our political system as well, and that’s a whole conversation for another day. But I think the idea that politicians can be the ones to dictate what happens in our schools, in our classes. I think we need to turn to the experts when it comes to things like what the standards should be or what we can teach and what we cannot. This idea that we’re pulling books off the bookshelves and we’re not allowing kids to learn about Rosa Parks in our classroom is absolutely absurd, and it is going to take a big campaign. It’s gonna take all of us on the same page to make the country aware of what’s happening. 

[00:28:07] Amy H-L: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that we haven’t?

[00:28:12] Katherine N: I think that one of the things that I never hear too much in the discussion about Black teachers or teachers of color, Hispanic teachers, in our classrooms. I don’t hear too much of the conversation about the administrators. So we know that over 80% of the administrators in our public school systems are not administrators of color. One of the things that we need to have a conversation about is if we’re going to pull in these teachers, typically if you have a Black principal, he’s going to be looking at Black teachers and making sure representation is in that school building. So I think we need to also have a conversation about our Black administrators in our classrooms, our Hispanic administrators in our classrooms, or our Native American or Asian. So we need to have that conversation as well. 

[00:28:58] Kathryn W: I think to connect back to Katherine’s point, to the question of what needs to happen. And the only thing that I was thinking about, too, in addition to how we get the public to support legislation like this. We also need to be thinking about how we address workplace discrimination. What are the enforcement agencies and at what levels? How can greater enforcement around discrimination in the workplace and racial discrimination specifically be tackled? And then thinking about how we support teachers early on through residency programs and the like. That made me think about Bank Street, but we have these examples of residencies. Katherine, maybe you have some ideas or thoughts on this, too, but that’s maybe a way that investing in those kinds of programs, which might actually have been included in legislation, I’m not certain, but that could be another way to support teachers early on in the process.

And then the last, something that your audience might be interested in, is there is a great free resource from the Learning Policy Institute and the Partnership for the Future of Learning called the Teaching Profession Playbook, which you can find online, and it’s got these great case profiles of districts and of programs that have focused specifically on recruiting, retaining, and supporting a diverse teaching workforce. So it’s a great free public resource and something that if you’re a district administrator, you could pop open and look at their strategies and you’ll get to see examples from other districts across the country about what steps they took. 

[00:30:24] Jon M: Thank you, Dr. Katherine Norris and Dr. Kathryn Wiley of Howard University. 

[00:30:29] Katherine N: Thank you so much for having us. 

[00:30:31] Kathryn W: Yea. Thank you! 

[00:30:33] Jon M: And thank you, listeners. Check out our new video series, “What Would YOU Do?,” a collaboration with Dr. Meira Levinson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and EdEthics. Go to our website, and click Video.

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