Utah education leaders seek to retain new teachers

Photo courtesy Norfolk Public Schools.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah education officials are trying to stop an alarming school drop-out rate – but not with students.

Data recently released from the Utah State Office of Education shows 42 percent of new teachers in the state leave within five years of starting out. More than a third of those who leave depart at the end of their first year.

“At this point, we are just trying to gather information about it to find out as much as we can about the shortage,” said David Crandall, chairman of the Utah State Board of Education.

Contributing factors cited among those who have quit range from insufficient pay to burnout, according to the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1YjXeEA ).

Andrew Platt resigned from his job as a Utah high school history teacher last week after four years in the profession. With student loans, maxed-out credit cards and a broken furnace, Platt said he simply “couldn’t afford” to do his job. In addition, he could not keep up with teaching 200 students and being expected to advise students for dances, debates and government.

“Teachers, with the sheer amount of work placed on them, they ultimately learn how to cut corners to try to survive in the job. So then legislators see teachers cutting corners and they make the assumption that teachers are lazy,” Platt said.

The result is a lack of enthusiasm and energy while shouldering testing and accountability measures imposed by lawmakers, Platt said.

Officials say the hemorrhage of newer teachers such as Platt is happening as Utah’s student population rises every year. Utah’s schools gained nearly 12,000 new pupils last year, bringing the student population to more than 633,000. That is nearly 110,000 more than the population in 2006. But the total number of licensed teachers only increased by roughly 3,300 in that same time period.

“(That increase) isn’t keeping up with the needs of the districts to fill those positions given student population increases,” said Rich Nye, deputy superintendent at the state education office.

Education leaders and state lawmakers plan to discuss the findings next week and strategize on how to reverse the trend and minimize its impact on students.

The Legislature recently approved salary supplement funding to encourage science and math teachers to stay on. The State School Board is weighing changing administrative rule so local school boards can have more flexibility in hiring new teachers. For example, schools would be able to recruit people who may not have experience in the classroom but have professional experience in other fields.

“With this shortage, the biggest fear we have is they will lower the standard and the qualifications to get into teaching,” said Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, outgoing Utah Education Association president. “That is not going to solve the problem. It’s going to become more resource-intensive. It’s going to cost more money.”

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