October 25, 2012 in Idaho

Campaign ad hits Idaho teacher departures

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE - The latest TV campaign commercial from opponents of Idaho’s school reform propositions focuses on the number of Idaho teachers who have left the profession since the laws passed in 2011.

“Since the Legislature passed Props 1, 2 and 3, over 1,800 Idaho teachers have left teaching,” the ad says.

That claim is based on data compiled by the state Department of Education. The department’s data shows that 1,884 certificated Idaho teachers left the profession of teaching in the 2011-2012 school year, a number that rose sharply from the 1,276 who left in the 2010-2011 year. Both those figures were way up from the 2009-2010 school year, in which the data show 716 Idaho teachers left the profession, a figure that at that point had been relatively stable for three years.

That means the ad’s claim is correct - if anything, it understates the figures. The laws passed during the 2011 legislative session; that was the 2010-2011 school year. So, depending on when in the year the teachers departed, it’s possible that as many as 3,160 Idaho school teachers have left the profession since the reform laws passed.

The new commercial, which is airing statewide, including the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene market, features a mother of a young child, Erin Smith of Caldwell, saying, “I want my daughter to get a great education, but the Luna laws and their top-down mandates are driving away some of our best and brightest teachers. Nothing’s more important to me than Kelsey’s education. Props 1, 2 and 3 are just too big of a risk.”

That cause-and-effect claim is less clear.

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna has maintained that the teacher departures were more likely related to the recession than the reform laws, which included stripping most collective bargaining rights from teachers, declaring that all teacher contracts expire each year, and forbidding consideration of seniority in teacher layoffs.

Idaho economist John Church said he can’t see much evidence for either argument - that teachers left because of the new laws, or that they left because of the recession. “It is remarkable that that number jumped up so much. But the causality behind that, I think there are many things involved,” he said.

The recession could have played a role if teachers had spouses who lost their jobs, prompting the whole family to relocate, he said. “I couldn’t just jump to the conclusion that it was because of those laws being passed that that happened.”

But the number of teachers leaving Idaho to teach elsewhere - which was not included in the number who left the profession - fell at the same time the other numbers ballooned. The year before the laws passed, it was 119; in 2010-2011, 48; and in 2011-2012, 51.

Former longtime Idaho chief state economist Mike Ferguson said, “A recession is going to reduce economic opportunity in the private sector, because the private sector tends to be more cyclical than the public sector. … My guess is that would probably not, all other things being equal, lead to more teachers leaving the teaching profession, because it would essentially reduce alternative opportunities.”

He added, “Would another recession cause teachers to leave the profession? I don’t think so. I think it would have the opposite effect.”

Luna pointed to an increase in the number of people earning teacher certification in Idaho, including through a new accelerated, alternative certification program he has lauded. As a result, despite the high number of departures, the number of Idaho teachers has remained relatively stable.

The number of new teachers certified in Idaho in the 2011-2012 school year was 1,433, up from 1,138 a year earlier.

The state’s data show that of the 1,884 teachers who left the profession last school year, 127 were fired, 143 were laid off, and 957 left for “personal reasons.”

The previous year, of the 1,276 who left, 96 were fired, 85 were laid off, and 697 left for personal reasons. That “personal reasons” category more than doubled from the 2009-2010 school year, while the other two categories remained virtually unchanged: 716 teachers left the state that year, including 98 who were fired, 83 who were laid off, and 314 who left for personal reasons.

The data don’t show whether the teachers who left were the best or worst teachers or somewhere in the middle.

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