survey says

‘Indiana’s war on teachers is winning’: Here’s what superintendents say is causing teacher shortages

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

In a survey this year, Indiana State University researchers asked Indiana school superintendents if they faced a teacher shortage — and how bad the problem was.

“It’s killing us,” one respondent wrote.

“This situation is getting worse each year,” another said. “Scares me!”

“Indiana’s war on teachers is winning,” a superintendent commented.

Out of the 220 districts that responded to the survey, 91 percent reported experiencing a teacher shortage, with most feeling the pinch in science, math, and special education.

Eighty-five percent of the surveyed districts applied for emergency permits for people who don’t have teaching licenses, or educators who are hired to teach subjects outside their licensure.

Superintendents overwhelmingly said it was difficult to find qualified job candidates, and many mentioned high teacher turnover rates. They often pointed to low pay as the cause, competing against other higher-paying districts or the private sector.

School districts that had better luck often said they started the hiring process early, or they could offer higher salaries.

Here are a selection of administrators’ comments from the survey, lightly edited for clarity and length, about why they believe there is a teacher shortage and how they think the state could fix it.

Money matters

  • “Pay teachers more and offer better benefits. Respect the profession.”
  • “Overworked. Little or no pay raises in the past and none expected in the future.”
  • “The burnout rate increases because teachers are covering higher caseloads because of the shortage. Even when provided with an annual increase, overall morale of teachers in the state is low.”
  • “This is the only profession I am aware of that experience and added degrees inhibit you from moving forward. Once you get a job, you better stay or you will be overqualified and not affordable!”
  • “The quality of applicants is quite low. We have replaced the same position 3 times since school started. People keep jumping around for higher pay.”
  • “There has been more competition for teachers this year. We are a small, rural school district and we had to replace 14 teachers this year. Larger nearby corporations were able to offer more money to several of our folks and they moved on. It’s been a very difficult summer.”

Feeling the pinch

  • “While we often have 4-5 applications for an open position, we often find that only 1 or 2 of the candidates are someone that we would extend an employment offer. Just because schools have some applicants does not mean the applicants are qualified or good for students.”
  • “The number of applicants for positions are very few! We had to ask people to apply that are not teachers.”
  • “Special education teachers are fleeing to the general education classroom because of the demands required being a special education teacher. We will be using more financial incentives to attract teachers back to special education.”
  • “It is real! We are interviewing candidates who have been out of school several years and still don’t have their first job. In the past we would have not interviewed these candidates because we know they have problems if not already hired.”
  • “The shortage seems to be spreading. For the first time in school history, we have placed elementary teachers on emergency licenses due to lack of quality applicants.”
  • “The shortage has led to unprofessional behavior exhibited by current teachers (vacating contracts without notice and after the school year has begun) and school districts and their highest level of leadership (making employment offer to teachers currently teaching under contract and do so without contacting the current employer for a reference).”
  • “Although the teacher shortage has existed for some of our more difficult areas (special education, math, science) this was the first year we experienced challenges in both social studies and elementary. We are a high performing and “desirable” district to live and work. I cannot imagine the difficulties other districts that serve more challenging populations and have experienced more difficult financial times are experiencing.”
  • “Essentially, we were EXTREMELY lucky to find the folks we have. We had 1 good candidate for each area, but literally nobody else worth serious consideration.”

Getting creative

  • “We typically have to steal people from other schools. This practice is also used against us quite often.”
  • “We are using Ivy Tech to teach our Spanish classes by webcam.”
  • “There are few applicants for the positions that we had open this year. Had to place 4 candidates on emergency permits, transition to teaching permits, and workplace specialist licenses. Most of the people told us that the cost of college versus the beginning salary is not worth majoring in that field.”

Changing demands

  • “The demands on teachers due to testing accountability makes it not worth teaching — takes the love and passion out of education.”
  • “There is absolutely no incentive to stay in teaching or for that matter to pursue a degree in education. The pay is ridiculous. The demands are excessive. Teachers don’t really teach anymore, just test and retest. All the data-driven requirements are not successful in helping a student learn. Yes, we should have some testing but the sheer amount is ridiculous. I think we should go back to letting teachers teach. Let them be the professionals they were hired to be. ”
  • “There is a disconnect between what the state requires and what pre-service teachers are taught.”

The political impact

  • “Until we have full support from legislators to emphasize the importance that a teacher plays, we will struggle. This needs to come with increased funding for better pay and benefits, but also with public support of the profession.”
  • “We are teachers because we care about our students, but many of the laws being made are not done by those who have been educators themselves. An idea can look good in theory, but not fit in the classroom as you may think. Educating our children is our future, and our state needs to take a hard look at how we can take a new approach, starting with Kindergarten.”
  • “I believe the teacher shortage is due to the climate of education and the lack of government support as well as district support for teachers. Teachers have not been listened to or given the respect necessary to want to pursue careers. In our particular district, the constant negativity has caused a rift between campuses, and the negativity has created a hostile climate in which to work.”
  • “It is clear that the efforts of Indiana’s General Assembly to devalue education as a profession has had a significant impact upon the teacher shortage.”

Read more from Chalkbeat: 

Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

Indiana schools might struggle to hire teachers, but there’s no shortage of ways to become one

Indiana spent years overhauling education. Did teaching get left behind?

Future of Teaching

Tentative contract includes big raises for IPS teachers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Teachers would receive significant raises under a tentative new contract with IPS.

A month after voters approved a vast funding increase for Indianapolis Public Schools, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration and the district teachers union have reached a tentative deal for a new contract that would boost teacher pay by an average of 6.3 percent.

The agreement was ratified by union members Wednesday, according to a statement from teachers union president Ronald Swann. It must be approved by the Indianapolis Public Schools board, which is likely to consider the contract next week, before it is final.

Swann did not provide details of the agreement, but it was outlined in union presentations to teachers on Wednesday ahead of the ratification vote. The deal would cover the 2018-19 school year, and teachers would receive retroactive pay back to July 2018. The prior contract ended in June.

Raising teacher pay was a key part of the sales pitch district leaders used to win support for a referendum to raise $220 million over eight years from taxpayers for operating expenses. The referendum passed with wide support from voters last month, and although the district will not get that money until next year, the administration can now bank on an influx of cash in June 2019. Teachers could receive another raise next year, once the money from the referendum begins flowing.

The proposed deal would bring pay raises for new and experienced teachers. First year teachers in the district would see their salaries jump to $42,587, about $2,600 above the current base salary, according to the presentation to teachers. Returning teachers would move up the pay scale, with most receiving raises of about $2,600.

The deal also brings a reward for teachers who are at the top of the current scale. The top of the scale would rise to $74,920 by adding several stops above the current maximum of $59,400. That means teachers who are currently at the top of the scale would be able to move up and continue getting raises.

Many longtime teachers in the district also earn additional pay for advanced education, but teachers who joined the district more recently are not eligible for that extra money.

Teachers who received evaluations of ineffective or needs improvement in 2017-18 are not eligible for raises.

The new contract is the second time in recent years that teachers have won substantial raises in Indianapolis Public Schools. After four years of painful pay freezes, Ferebee negotiated a contract in 2015 that included a large pay increase. Teacher pay is especially important for the district because it is competing with several surrounding communities to staff schools.

Health care costs would go up this year, a policy shift that was advocated by the Indy Chamber, which urged the district to reduce health insurance spending as part of a plan to shift more money to teacher salaries.

The contract includes a provision that was piloted last year allowing the district to place newly hired teachers at anywhere on the salary schedule. It’s designed to allow the district to pay more for especially hard-to-fill positions.

Teachers at some troubled schools, known as the transformation zone, would also be eligible for extra pay on top of their regular salaries at the discretion of the administration. That money would come from state grants specifically targeted at transformation zone schools.

The idea of allowing superintendents to pay some teachers in their districts more than others is controversial.

Teacher Pay

‘Our teachers have waited long enough’: Educators say Indiana needs to act now on teacher pay

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in Decatur Township work on physics problems with their teacher.

Educators and advocates are pushing state leaders to take action this year to raise teacher compensation — not to wait for additional research, as Gov. Eric Holcomb proposed last week.

“Our teachers have waited long enough,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It doesn’t take a two-year study to discover what we already know: teachers need to be valued, respected, and paid as professionals.”

Holcomb’s proposal last week to study raises in the upcoming budget-writing session and make bigger steps in 2021 didn’t sit well with some, since lawmakers and advocates spent the fall talking up the need to make teacher salaries competitive with other states. But given the state’s tight budget situation, Holcomb suggested studying the impact of raises for at least a year, as well as looking at how much money would be needed and how districts would be expected to get the money to teachers.

Read: Raising teacher pay likely to be at the forefront for Indiana lawmakers and advocates in 2019

The proposal drew quick criticism. Education leaders and advocacy groups took to Twitter to express their hopes that Holcomb and lawmakers would find ways to address teacher salaries this year as well as into the future.

“IN must respond now,” State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick tweeted Friday morning, remarking that too many teachers across the state are leaving the profession because pay is too low. “Kids deserve & depend upon excellent teachers.”

“We can’t wait to act because Hoosier children are counting on all us to come together to ensure our schools can attract and retain the best teachers,” Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children Indiana, said in a blog post titled “The time to act on teacher pay is now.

ISTA’s 2019 legislative agenda, released Monday, will continue pushing for lawmakers and state leaders to find creative solutions to raise teacher pay and make Indiana competitive with other states.

And ISTA says they might have voters on their side. A recent ISTA poll of more than 600 Hoosiers, conducted by Emma White Research, shows that funding for education is a priority across the state, with more than 86 percent of those sampled supporting sending more money to public schools. About 72 percent of people polled believe educators are underpaid.

But it’s unclear if there would be enough money in the budget to spend on across-the-board raises after other funding obligations are met, such as funding needed by the Department of Child Services to deal with effects of the state’s opioid crisis. Senate Democrats have called for $81 million a year to ensure 5 percent raises for teachers and counselors over the next two years. Republicans have strong majorities in both chambers.

Neither ISTA, lawmakers, Holcomb nor other education groups have released specific plans for either how much they’d like to see set aside for teachers or strategies for how a pay increase could feasibly be carried out. However, the effort has brought together some unlikely allies — the union, a vocal advocate for traditional public schools, rarely aligns its education policy with groups like Stand and Teach Plus Indiana that have favored increased school-choice options, such as charter schools.

With limited dollars to go around, the focus will have to also be on how to make existing education dollars go farther, Meredith said. She, along with Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma last month, pointed to the need to curtail spending on administration, which, they argue, could free up money for other expenses such as teacher compensation.

Some have also pointed to the state’s recent budget surplus and reserves as evidence that Indiana could spend more on education if there was political will to do so.

“The surplus has come on the backs of educators and their students,” Meredith said. “Elected leaders must do more. They must do more to declare teacher pay a priority in this session, and they must take action.”

ISTA is also hoping lawmakers will act to:

  • Restore collective bargaining rights so educators can negotiate work hours and class size, as well as salaries and benefits.
  • Remove teacher evaluation results from decisions about salary until the state’s new ILEARN test has been in place for a few years.
  • Invest in school counselors, psychologists, and social workers
  • Strengthen regulations for charter and virtual charter schools, including putting a moratorium on new virtual schools until those safeguards can be enacted.
  • Study districts that have focused on how to best teach students who have experienced trauma.

Indiana’s next legislative session begins in January.

Correction: Dec. 11, 2018: This story has been updated to reflect that Stand for Children Indiana doesn’t take a position in regards to private school vouchers.