The Teacher Bubble and the Federal Education Jobs Bill that will Never Die

As Politics K-12 at Education Week reports, “the Senate is scheduled to vote tonight on a measure that would provide $10 billion to stave off education layoffs. And, as an added bonus, the bill would include $16 billion to help states with Medicaid funding.”

Unfortunately, the evidence points to a “Teacher Bubble” with more education stimulus money rewarding states for a hiring binge over the last few years.

As Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci reports based on Census data and data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

In the 2007-08 school year, 48,396,076 students were enrolled in the U.S. K-12 public education system. That was a decline of 45,397 students from the previous year. They were taught by 3,150,061 teachers (full-time equivalent). That was an increase of 7,859 teachers from the previous year.

With more payroll chasing fewer students, it’s no surprise to discover that per-pupil spending rose a healthy 6.1% in 2007-08, and the amount spent on employee salaries and benefits increased 6.0%. The United States average for per-pupil spending was $10,259 with 20 states spending more than $10,000 per student. . . .

From 2003 to 2008, student enrollment increased a cumulative 1.6 percent, while the K-12 teacher workforce increased 4 percent. Per-pupil spending increased almost 28 percent (9.5% after correcting for inflation). Spending on education employee salaries and benefits increased 26.4 percent (8.2% after correcting for inflation).

What’s worse is that if the federal government delivers on another $10 billion in education jobs money, there will be no strings attached to make sure the money is distributed to teachers based on performance rather than seniority and tenure.

As school districts reform their evaluation procedures, there is ample evidence that teachers can be evaluated by peers and performace to identify the weakest and lowest-performing teachers within a school district.

  • In Washington DC, Michelle Rhee dismissed 241 teachers, or four percent of the city’s teacher workforce for poor performance and identified more than 700 teachers at risk for dismissal.
  • In New York City, according to Gotham Schools:

Principals gave unsatisfactory ratings to 1,813 teachers, 17 percent more than in 2009, according to data the city released today. They also denied tenure to 234 teachers this year, 80 percent more than last year. And principals nearly doubled the number of teachers given an extra year before their final tenure decision is made.

In total, 11 percent of the 6,386 teachers up for tenure this year were denied or delayed, compared to 6.6 percent last year. It’s an even more dramatic jump from 2006, when tenure was denied or delayed less than 1 percent of the time.

By far, the leading cause principals cited for giving a U-rating was quality of instruction and student care. Attendance problems were the second-leading cause of low ratings, followed closely by the nebulous “personal and professional qualities.”

These examples demonstrate that when it comes to “The Teacher Bubble” and the need to find rationale teacher lay-off procedures, the lowest-hanging fruit rather than the last-hired should be the first teachers to go.