Educators studying concerns that Indiana might have a teacher shortage say the best way to address the problem is move back toward traditional pay scales.
A 49-member panel comprised mostly of teachers from across the state on Monday refined a series of recommendations for how the state should mentor, train, recruit and pay teachers.
Among the panel’s chief suggestions was a call to reverse key provisions of a 2011 change to state law that encouraged school districts to move away from traditional pay scales. That 2011 legislation also banned extra pay for teachers who earn advanced degrees.
The teacher panel, created by Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, spent this past fall researching solutions to difficulties some schools have reported finding teachers.
It found that more teachers would remain in the profession if they had “a professionally competitive pay scale” with regular base salary raises as well as the opportunity to earn higher salaries for “advanced education.”
After final editing, the panel’s suggestions will be forwarded to legislative leaders in hopes that they’ll lead to changes to state law, but Ritz admitted that many of the ideas run counter to the legislature’s recent approaches and might not catch on with lawmakers in the upcoming 2016 session.
“A great many of what we came up with won’t see the light of day in a legislative package perhaps,” she said.
But bringing the panel together was important, she said.
“It’s really those that are in the profession having a say about their profession. … It was a very good conversation over several long meetings,” she said.
The panel found that dropping the incentive for teachers to earn a master’s degree backfired when a governing body overseeing dual credit courses—high school classes that also count for college credit—recently required teachers of those courses to have master’s degrees.
“In Indiana we have been devaluing those,” Ritz said. “As a result we have needs, where we need that type of education now.”
Teachers on the panel said they believed districts that have moved toward less frequent base pay increases and more one-time bonuses or stipends have discouraged new teachers from entering the profession.
“Part of the reason people are leaving the profession is there is no continuity of pay,” said Vickie Thomas, a panelist and master teacher from Eggers Middle School in Munster. “We’ve got to get rid of stipends so people can buy homes and send their kids to college.”
The panel also called for districts to create “career ladders” or ways for veteran teachers to mentor younger educators or fill other leadership roles as way to make extra money.
“A lot of teachers want to be able to have leadership opportunities but still be able to remain in the classroom and teach,” Ritz said. “What does that look like in our profession? How can we compensate that? We will be looking at that.”
The panel endorsed the state’s policy of giving stipends or bonus pay to teachers who raise student test scores but the suggested that those stipends should also flow to teachers who raise student scores on the “formative” exams that are sometimes used to prepare for state tests, such as one known as NWEA.
The panelists also urged the state to:
— Give districts leeway to judge teacher performance on more different kinds of tests instead of forcing them to rely heavily on ISTEP and end-of-course exams.
— Support “a state-funded, ongoing investment in a mentoring system” in which mentors would support teachers in their first two to three years in the classroom.
— Launch a “boot camp” for new teachers prior to the first day of school.
— Use data to better identify what teacher training would be most helpful.
The panel’s plan for recruiting teachers would use some of the same tools Republican leaders have suggested—college scholarships, grants and loan repayment programs—to reduce or eliminate the cost of teacher training in Indiana.
The main difference is that the panel’s report focuses more heavily on recruiting a diverse teaching force to increase the number of teachers from minority groups, including blacks and Hispanics, that are now underrepresented in Indiana classrooms.
The recommendations also include a proposal from the Commission on Higher Education to collect data on teacher shortages by geographic area, subject matter, gender and race across the state. Some data suggests that the state has enough teachers for all of its open jobs but that the teachers are not evenly spread around the state and that there are not enough educators qualified to teach specialty subjects like foreign languages and science. There are also demographic shortages including what some say are too few black male teachers in the classroom.