Teacher shortages, at least the news about them, seems inescapable this year. For the next two weeks, we share many of the teacher shortage related stories that we encountered during our annual scan of back-to-school headlines. This week’s post focuses on articles from the US that discuss the shortage, describe the problems with the available data, and explore some of the efforts to deal with the challenges of hiring and retaining teachers; next week, Part 2 will draw together headlines about teacher shortages in other parts of the world.
As students headed back to school in the US in 2022, education news from many major education outlets raised concerns about shortages of teachers. Predictably, headlines describing a teacher shortage crisis were quickly followed by articles questioning whether there was a crisis at all. Matt Barnum, for example, noted both the reports describing a “catastrophic” teacher shortage as well as those expressing skepticism that there is sufficient evidence to support those claims (Is there a national teacher shortage? Here’s what we know and don’t know).
“The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” Chad Alderman quoted in The Atlantic
There may be many reasons for teachers to quit. In particular, one survey showed that fifty-nine percent of teachers say they’re burned out, compared to 44 percent of other workers. But it’s not clear the extent to which the number of teachers leaving the profession is significantly greater than it has been previously. Richard Ingersoll and colleagues have long highlighted challenges of staffing schools, pointing to problems with retaining as well as hiring new teachers (NEPC Talks Education). Furthermore, the shortages of teachers are being reported at the same time there have been recent declines in student enrollment and an increase in hiring of teachers and other support staff that has come along with the influx of federal funding to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “[I]s it useful to use the term shortage,” Derek Thompson wondered in The Atlantic, “when, compared with staff numbers before the pandemic, more teachers might be employed in America’s public schools right now than in 2019?” (There Is No National Teacher Shortage).
IEN will be taking a break until the end of August, but in the meantime, please revisit some of our posts highlighting specific improvements that organizations like Fount for Nations, Van Ness Elementary School and Transcend, and the Central Square Foundation are making in schools and learning opportunities around the world. IEN returns in September with our annual scan of “back to school” headlines in the US and other parts of the world.
This week, Sam Abrams lays out some of the key implications of recent Supreme Court decisions related to education, highlighting that by failing to acknowledge related foreign precedents, the US Supreme Court has made clear that religious schools can get public funds without adhering to the same standards and regulations as public schools. Abrams is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Education at Teachers College Columbia University; Director, National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education; and a Fulbright Visiting Professor, University of Turku, Finland, 2022-23. He is also the author of Education and the Commercial Mindset (Harvard University Press, 2016). This post was published originally as The Telling Gap in Carson v. Makin by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education.
In tandem with its reversal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court stands to substantially alter everyday life in America with its recent decisions of Carson v. Makin, amplifying its support for public funding of religious schools, and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, allowing prayer in public schools. The significance of Kennedy is blunt. With the Court ruling 6-3 along party lines that the dismissal of a football coach at a public high school in the state of Washington for holding post-game prayer meetings violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, we can expect similar meetings as well as Bible study sessions, nativity pageants, and the like in public schools across the country. Such events will surely lead some students to feel coerced into participating for fear of disappointing peers and authority figures. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor indeed noted that a lower court had determined that some players said they joined the coach’s prayer meetings “because they felt social pressure to follow their coach and teammates.”
The significance of Carson is more subtle but equally profound. In Carson, the same justices ruled 6-3—as forecasted on this site following oral arguments in December—that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from partaking in its Town Tuitioning Program likewise violated the right to free exercise of religion. This program covers all or part of the cost for students in rural districts without high schools to attend either public or nonsectarian private high schools in nearby districts or beyond (if the school is public, the total cost is covered; if it is private, coverage is pegged to per-pupil statewide average spending). With this decision, we can expect religious groups in considerably rural states across the country to lobby legislators to create programs similar to Maine’s.
But there’s another dimension to Carson, which derives as much from what it did not say as from what it did. To grasp the wider implications of Carson requires understanding what is missing from the decision. While many countries—such as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands—have for many years allowed a considerable portion of their students to attend religious schools with public funding, the Court did not cite such foreign practice. In the Netherlands, in fact, 55 percent of students attend religious schools with public funding. Why then didn’t the Court cite foreign practice? This indifference to foreign practice holds, as well, for the majority opinions in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002, validating the provision of government-funded vouchers to cover tuition at religious schools in Cleveland, and Espinoza et al. v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020, mandating that if a state permits students to attend private schools with scholarships funded by a tuition tax-credit program, it cannot bar religious schools from participation.
American jurisprudence does tend to stick to domestic precedent, but that custom cannot explain this disregard for education policy abroad.
American jurisprudence does tend to stick to domestic precedent, but that custom cannot explain this disregard for education policy abroad. After all, former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority in Zelman, was a prominent champion of deference to foreign practice and inspired others to follow in his path. In authoring the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, Kennedy famously drew on British legislation and the European Convention on Human Rights to overturn state laws criminalizing homosexual relations. Two years later, Kennedy made use of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child in writing the majority opinion in Roper v. Simmons to nullify the constitutionality of the death penalty for juvenile offenders.
The answer to this question is crucial. To have invoked foreign practice would have been to invite trouble. Publicly funded religious schools in such countries as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands are regulated to a degree that American proponents of religious schools would find unacceptable. In Carson, Chief Justice John Roberts conceded in this light that while Maine public schools must adhere to specific standards for instruction in a range of subjects, that is not so for nonsectarian and religious private schools. Though accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), such schools, wrote Chief Justice Roberts, “are exempt from these requirements, and instead subject only to general ‘standards and indicators’ governing the implementation of their own chosen curriculum.”
In Carson, Chief Justice John Roberts conceded in this light that while Maine public schools must adhere to specific standards for instruction in a range of subjects, that is not so for nonsectarian and religious private schools.
As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out in his dissent, one of the two schools at the heart of Carson, both of which are accredited by NEASC, considers academic and religious education “completely intertwined,” so much so that “in science class, students learn that atmospheric layers ‘are evidence of God’s good design.’ ”At religious as well as nonsectarian private schools funded with public money in such countries as Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, curricula must comport with national standards (meaning, for example, no attribution to divine design for atmospheric composition). In addition, teachers must be certified and guaranteed access to union membership while members of the LGBTQ community cannot be barred from either enrollment or employment.
The parameters of NEASC and other independent school organizations across the United States do not come close to such expectations, as Justice Breyer’s point about science education indicates. Indeed, many religious schools, such as the two defining Carson, refuse to hire gay or lesbian teachers. While Maine passed an amendment to its human rights act to bar schools from receiving public money if they discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, that does not mean other states motivated by Carson to create similar programs will enact such protections; nor does it mean that Maine’s amendment will go unchallenged on the grounds that it interferes with an institution’s right to free exercise of religion.
In a guest essay in The New York Times, Aaron Tang, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis, cited this amendment as a model for deflecting the impact of decisions like Carson, but he neither acknowledged that other states implementing town tuitioning programs might not take such action nor recognized that Maine’s amendment might not last. Setting aside whether public funding of any form of religious schooling poses a threat to democratic values by fostering societal division and conflict, as Justice Breyer claimed in his dissent, there can be no doubt that public funding of lightly regulated religious schooling poses precisely such a threat.
Setting aside whether public funding of any form of religious schooling poses a threat to democratic values by fostering societal division and conflict, as Justice Breyer claimed in his dissent, there can be no doubt that public funding of lightly regulated religious schooling poses precisely such a threat.
Policymakers abroad have understood this. And it is basic to our own tradition. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1925 in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, ruling unanimously that Oregon could not, as decided by a statewide referendum in 1922, bar private schools from operating but that it was empowered to carefully regulate them. “No question is raised concerning the power of the State reasonably to regulate all schools,” the Court declared in Pierce, “to inspect, supervise and examine them, their teachers and pupils; to require that all children of proper age attend some school, that teachers shall be of good moral character and patriotic disposition, that certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught, and that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.”
With Carson building on Zelman and Espinoza, public funding of religious schooling appears irreversible. But that does not mean the message of Pierce and the lessons from abroad cannot be heeded. With Kennedy, the public school as neutral common ground is over.” With Carson building on Zelman and Espinoza, public funding of religious schooling appears irreversible. But that does not mean the message of Pierce and the lessons from abroad cannot be heeded. With Kennedy, the public school as neutral common ground is over.
In the third part of this “Back to School” series Thomas Hatch scans some of the headlines from states and cities around the US, most of which focus on concerns about COVID cases or related stories about vaccines, masks, and protests about them. Part 1 links to articles with some lessons from last year and guidance for reopening schools this year. Part 2 draws together headlines that focus on the many challenges causing problems for schools this year. Later posts will include school reopening headlines from other parts of the world as well. Take a look at IEN’s “Back to School” headlines from 2020, from 2019, and from 2018 to see how this year compares.
Last week, IEN focused on stories describing how educators were responding to the insurrection at the US Capitol. This week, with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, we’ve collected headlines and links for a number of stories that center on what many expect to be a dramatic shift in US education policy. Some of the stories look back, assessing the tenure of Betsy Devos; many look ahead to examine what Miguel Cardona and the new administration might do; and a few look at the roles that Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray and others have played and may play in education policy moving forward.
This week, IEN’s Thomas Hatch summarizes some of the reports and stories that describe the many different ways schools are starting the new semester and new school year following the coronavirus closures earlier this year. In many cases, the differences in reopening plans differ as much within countries as across them.
In Spain, with the fastest growing infection rate in Europe, requirements for public schools are more stringent: class sizes are being reduced; students are assigned to “bubbles” with a small number of classmates; desks must be positioned at least 1 ½ meters apart; all schools must improve open-air ventilation, and students must wear masks. Yet some private schools have been able to take advantage of their own resources to create open-air enclosures, increase staff and take other steps to adjust.
In Norway, as schools reopened in cities like Oslo, cases rose to a “yellow,” caution level, and if they continue to rise to a “red” level, schools will have to close again. The Norwegian authorities have not mandated the use of face masks in schools, but many schools have dropped the tradition of allowing parents of first graders to shake hands with the principal and follow their children into their classrooms as part of a formal welcome for their very first day of school. (“Corona clouds the first day of school” Newsinenglish.no)
In Estonia, some schools are almost “back to normal” but others are making their own adaptions to slow the spread of the virus. One school is alternating between one week learning in school and the next two weeks learning online from home, while another has reduced class sizes, shortened classes, decreased the length of the school day and included “movement” days where students spend the whole day outside. (“New academic year: Alternating distance and contact learning” ERR.ee).
Hong Kong schools plan to resume face-to-face classes in stages, on a half-day basis with students from some years, such as those starting primary or secondary schools among the first back
In Germany, testing for students and educators has been “fast and free,” with quick contact tracing making it possible to isolate cases and contain spread. As the New York Times reported, after schools were open in Berlin for a few weeks: 49 teachers and students had been infected, but with testing and targeted quarantines, only about 600 students out of some 366,000 have had to stay home on any given day. (“Schools Can Reopen, Germany Finds, but Expect a ‘Roller Coaster’”, New York Times).
In the US, opening plans differ drastically depending on location as 65% of rural districts plan to start fully in-person, but only 24% of suburban districts and 9% of urban districts plan to do so; overall, estimates suggest 26% of districts plan to open fully remote, but over 40% of the highest-poverty districts will do so (Getting Back to School: An Update on Plans from Across the Country, Center on Reinventing Public Education). In Los Angeles, although almost all students are still learning from home, the district is trying to put in place a massive testing program to test and screen all 700,000 students and 75,000 employees in order to reopen the schools. (L.A. Schools Begin Testing 775,000 Students and Workers, New York Times). In New York City, the teachers union continues to express concerns about the plans to open with in-person learning, and at the same time, over 40% of students (approximately 422,000 students) have enrolled in all-remote learning. (55 NYC School Staff Test Positive; Nearly Half of Students Opt for All-Remote, NBCNewYork).
Since the publication, countries around the world have taken note and interpreted the results in a variety of ways. The Washington Post reports that the rise in the ranking of Asian universities is “worrying” for the U.S, despite what the THE called the “utter domination” of US universities in the ranking, with U.S. schools earning 7 out of the top 10 positions. The Guardian called attention to the success of Switzerland’s universities in the ranking system, noting that for such a small country they tend to earn top positions. The Malay Mail Online raised questions about why Malaysian universities, which the country’s leaders claim are among the “best in the world,” opted out, noting their low ranking in years past. New Delhi TV pointed out that India now has two universities ranked in the top 300; however, Indian universities have yet to make it to the “definitive top 200.” The Irish Independent noted that the country’s two top universities slid in the rankings and attributed the drop to the country’s inadequate funding of higher education institutions. Similarly, tvnz.co.nz reports that the decline of New Zealand’s universities in the rankings is related to a lack of financial support.
While these recent news reports focus only on the most recent THE rankings, other ranking systems for higher education have been making the news as well — with a different set of results. For example, the QS ranking gave the top spot to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Malaysian universities do participate in this survey, with The Malaysian Insider reporting that the University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) placed in the world’s top universities under 50 years old.
In the U.S., President Obama has introduced the idea that colleges ought to be rated according to measures that allow students and parents to understand the value of the education they receive there. In recognition of the fact that college tuition has skyrocketed over the past few decades, this rating system is being promoted (and debated) as one way to reduce the cost of college tuition, while also identifying the schools—and even subject areas—that will provide students with the most “bang for the buck.” While thinking of college primarily as an investment in a student’s financial (not intellectual) development might seem to miss what some might see as the point of an undergraduate educational experience, The New York Times recently reported that the American worker with a college degree now earns 74% more than their counterparts with only a high school diploma. David Deming, a Harvard professor who studies the economics of education, is quoted in the article as saying, “In the U.S., more so than in other countries, you as a family are making a larger and riskier investment in your own future…. College pays off on average but it has a ton of risk. Lower-income families can’t buffer that shock.” The fact that a college degree might have the potential to dramatically alter the trajectory of a person’s financial life, combined with the fact that income inequality is increasing in the United States, means that greater attention will be paid to colleges and universities that can prove themselves to be a healthy investment. To that end, the web-based professional networking company LinkedIn has now created its own ranking system—one that ranks universities based on career outcomes. Even H&R Block has created a chart linking college majors to individual earnings. The New York Times also released its own ranking, this one to measure economic diversity at the top colleges (with Vassar at the top of this list).
Considering the history of university rankings in the United States, some say that the value of an education is indeed undefinable, and that therefore universities are unrankable. The following podcast offers some interesting history on higher education in the U.S. Here, educational historians share what they know about the U.S. government’s early efforts to rank colleges (with the first ranking system created in 1910, ranking 344 schools), and efforts to make a college education more affordable and “practical.” They raise questions about the purpose of a college education that might be applicable to our understanding of what is going on in the world of international university ranking systems today.