|THE TEACHER VOID|
September 9, 1999
JIM LEHRER: A look at one of the consequences of the nation's teacher shortage. It comes from a documentary that will air tomorrow night on most of these PBS stations. The reporter is John Merrow.
JOHN MERROW: According to the U.S. Department of education, schools will need over two million new teachers in the next decade. Why? Because of new laws requiring smaller classes, because many teachers are retiring, and because enrollments are rising. The shortage is said to be worst in high-growth states, including California, Florida, Texas, and Georgia, and in specific fields: Special education, science, and math. A teacher shortage does not mean classrooms full of kids without adults in charge. School districts have to put an adult in front of the room. The question is who?
ELIZABETH JACKSON, Teacher: Area is equal to 16 squared. Okay, now, let's talk about squaring numbers.
JOHN MERROW: In this ninth grade math class in Cuthbert, Georgia, Elizabeth Jackson is explaining how to find the area of a square.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: So what is the area of this particular square? 256.
JOHN MERROW: That answer is incomplete. She should have said 256 square centimeters. During the period, Jackson solved several problems. Never once did she tell students that area is measured in square units.
SHANE MILLER: First thing we're going to do today is introduce your new vocabulary words for the week.
JOHN MERROW: Just down the hall from Elizabeth Jackson's math class, Shane Miller is in charge of a ninth grade English class.
SHANE MILLER: The next word will be strenuous. "Strenuous" is spelled s-t-r-e-n-o-u-s, strenuous.
JOHN MERROW: That's not how strenuous is spelled. But his students might never know it. They dutifully copied his error into their notebooks.
SHANE MILLER: Let's look at strenuous. Stren-u-ous, three.
JOHN MERROW: The public seeing that is going to say, "Boy, those are two lousy teachers." What do you say when you see it?
STEVEN PORTSCH, Georgia Board of Regents: Well, first of all, I would say if they're teaching out of their field, we shouldn't expect any different.
JOHN MERROW: Steven Portsch oversees public education for the Georgia Board of Regents.
STEVEN PORTSCH: That's exactly what you're going to get, more often than not, with having people trying to teach things they don't know well enough themselves.
JOHN MERROW: Both Elizabeth Jackson and Shane Miller are teaching subjects they have not been trained to teach. It's a common problem that's often attributed to the teacher shortage.
PHYSICAL EDUCATION CLASS: One, two, three, four, five....
JOHN MERROW: Jackson is fully qualified and certified to teach physical education, but not math. However, her principal assigned her to teach two math classes.
JOHN MERROW: What background do you have to teach math?
ELIZABETH JACKSON: I don't. I don't have a background in math at all.
SHANE MILLER: Eight, nine, ten. All right. That's pretty good for a rookie.
JOHN MERROW: Shane Miller is licensed to teach Phys. Ed. and history in middle school, not to teach high school English and math. He's teaching both.
SHANE MILLER: Good.
JOHN MERROW: Where do you feel uncomfortable?
SHANE MILLER: Most uncomfortable would probably be with the math. As far as the basic math, I feel pretty comfortable with, but fractions and that kind of thing is just not my, you know, forte.
RICHARD INGERSOLL, University of Georgia: Basically every year, millions of secondary school students are taught core academic subjects by teachers who do not have even a college minor in the field.
JOHN MERROW: Richard Ingersoll of the University of Georgia calls that practice out-of-field teaching.
RICHARD INGERSOLL: In any given year, well over half the high schools in the United States have some out-of- field teaching going on.
JOHN MERROW: Jackson and Miller teach at Randolph Clay High School in Cuthbert, Georgia. Elizabeth Jackson, you have... she's a Phys. Ed. Major. You have her teaching two math classes. How come?
LEE BYRD, High School Principal: I could not locate anyone with a math degree who wanted to come to Cuthbert, Georgia. So therefore, before I hired her, I asked her would she be willing to teach two math classes. And if she had said no, I probably wouldn't have hired her.
JOHN MERROW: Principal Lee Byrd spends a lot of his time looking for new teachers. Turnover is high at Randolph Clay. Last year, Byrd had to replace 13 teachers, almost one quarter of his staff.
LEE BYRD: A lot of times, it's very difficult to get quality teachers that you desire. A lot of times you'll have other schools who are vying for their services, and so, therefore, you have to kind of sell your school, sell the area, to the people you're interviewing.
JOHN MERROW: It's not an easy sell. The school is located in a poor, rural corner of Georgia, and salaries at Randolph Clay are among the lowest in the state.
TEACHER: We're going to do a writing assignment today. We're going to put it in your folder.
JOHN MERROW: In all, about 20 percent of the teachers here are teaching classes in subjects they neither majored nor minored in themselves. That should be called out-of- field teaching. After all, those teachers are teaching subjects they haven't studied. But it's not, not at Randolph Clay, or anywhere else in the state of Georgia. Strange as it may seem, the way the state counts things, there's no out-of-field teaching at Randolph Clay High School-- none whatsoever.
TEACHER: I want you to put nine...
JOHN MERROW: Under state rules, teachers may spend up to half the day teaching classes they are not licensed to teach and still be considered fully in field.
TEACHER: We remove these leaves...
JOHN MERROW: And because of that loophole, Randolph Clay High School is able to remain fully accredited, stamped with a seal of approval.
STEVEN PORTSCH: Some accreditation agencies say if you teach three out of the five classes a day in a subject where you're trained, then you're not counted as teaching out of field. The trouble with that, of course, is two out of the five is 40 percent of your children.
JOHN MERROW: The state is playing a shell game, says Richard Ingersoll of the University of Georgia.
RICHARD INGERSOLL: You can define out-of-field teaching out of existence.
JOHN MERROW: Define it out of existence? Solve the problem?
RICHARD INGERSOLL: Well, what I mean is that you can count it in ways which tend to minimize it. Most teachers have a primary field. In my case, I was a social studies teacher, but there wasn't a semester that went by that I wasn't, in addition to social studies, also assigned to teach a class or two or three in English, in mathematics, in special education.
JOHN MERROW: To you, that's out of field, but to the bureaucracy, since it was a small percentage of your time, it was not out of field?
RICHARD INGERSOLL: Depends on the state. But in many cases, the state may or may not count that as out-of- field teaching.
JOHN MERROW: Do you think the public understands how much out-of- field teaching there is?
SHANE MILLER: I don't think they do. I think that it's... it may be something that's kept secret. I don't know if it's kept secret, or just really not brought to the surface, maybe.
JOHN MERROW: And this is not simply a rural problem. Michael Cartwright teaches in suburban Atlanta, where recruiting teachers is not as big a challenge. His degree is in physics, but he was assigned to teach biology and health.
MICHAEL CARTWRIGHT: I did a horrible job the year I taught health, because I couldn't do the... I'm trying to think of what the terms are. I couldn't do CPR I mean, legally, I could not do it. It was dangerous. I couldn't do the Heimlich maneuver, because I didn't know it. And I didn't know all the drug names for all the drugs that are out. Kids would ask me questions. And I refused to do sex education. I just didn't do it.
JOHN MERROW: Loopholes and loose standards make life easier for those who run schools, says Richard Ingersoll.
RICHARD INGERSOLL: You're a high school principal. It is late August. One of your science teachers quits. You have a decision to make. You could, on the one hand, do a thorough search. You could advertise for a science teacher. You could bring people in, you could interview them, you could show them the school, and you could go through a long process and hire someone. On the other hand, another option is to take a social studies teacher and an English teacher and reassign each of them to cover one or two sections in science. That's a managerial choice. It could be less time-consuming, it could be easier to do. And sure, it could save a lot of time and money for the school, and ultimately for the taxpayer. But it's not cost-free. It's not a cost-free choice.
LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND, Stanford University: We have a history of treating teachers as interchangeable hot parts. We really think of them as cogs in the wheel, and they're kind of all interchangeable, there's no quality differentials, there's no knowledge differentials, there's no differentials in expertise. They just get through the book.
LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: It's non-refundable.
JOHN MERROW: Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University says we've always treated teachers as interchangeable parts.
LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: We adopted, in the early part of the century, the Henry Ford assembly line model for organizing schools, where you put the kids on the conveyer belt, you pass them along, the workers implement the same thing over and over again. What we began to believe was that teachers would just be interchangeable parts, that you give them a curriculum, they stamp the kids with the curriculum, there's no expertise needed. All you do is get through the book, get through the curriculum. That idea is very well rooted in American schools.
JOHN MERROW: And so is out-of-field teaching. It can be found in most states, even in the 30 that have rules against it. Georgia, for its part, is trying to raise standards by mandating that all teachers hold at least a minor in the subjects they teach. That way, the state hopes, teachers like Elizabeth Jackson, Shane Miller and others will not have to teach subjects they may not know.