A message for top college students: Jason Glass wants you.
Earlier this year, the director of the Iowa Department of Education unveiled 13 recommendations from the state’s Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation. Together, they are on a mission to improve education in part through getting better teachers.
“Certainly this is an area where we can do better,” Glass said in a meeting with The Gazette’s Editorial Board last month. “We can be better about recruiting higher caliber individuals in educating.”
The task force’s 13 recommendations include increasing starting salaries for new teachers to $35,000 as well as implementing a five-level system — with career, model, mentor, lead and admin designations — for teachers to move through as they gain education, experience and skills.
These proposed changes, which are now before Gov. Terry Branstad, the Legislature and the State Board of Education, aim in part to “attract able and promising new teachers,” according to the task force’s final report.
Melissa Heston, coordinator of elementary teacher education at the University of Northern Iowa, suspects that the push to get more high-performing students to be teachers has ties to improving the status of current teachers who may not fall into that top echelon.
“They’ll become the mentor teachers in the new career path model Glass has,” she said. “The expectation is that if those teachers become the best and the brightest, they’ll move into those leadership roles.”
In his push for attracting better educators, Glass cited a much maligned statistic from a McKinsey and Co. report, “Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching,” that the United States recruits most of its teachers from the bottom two-thirds of college classes.
Rachel Revelez is a junior at the University of Iowa who is in her third semester in the College of Education. She’s working on getting her endorsements in reading and English as a second language so she can be an elementary school teacher. While she’s almost too bashful to admit that she’s a good student — she’s on the university’s dean’s list for achieving a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher — she rejected the notion that her peers were not top-notch.
“I don’t think that intelligence necessarily equals being a good teacher,” said the 21-year-old from West Liberty. “I would like to think that my peers are competent.”
Statistics from Iowa’s regent universities don’t support the notion that the the teaching corps is culling from the depths of the college graduate pool.
At UNI, the average grade-point average for undergraduates earning a bachelor’s degree was 3.21, according to Registrar Phil Patton. For students earning a bachelor’d degree with a teaching certification, that number rose to 3.38.
The mean grade-point average for University of Iowa senior undergraduate students was 3.0 for men and 3.17 for women, according to the school’s “Profile of Students Enrolled.” Students who completed the College of Education’s Teacher Education Program during the 2011-12 academic year netted an average grade-point average of 3.53.
Comparable data is not available for Iowa State University, in part because the School of Education formally opened in July and because students earn teacher licensure through many different departments and colleges within the university.
“When people say that teacher education students are weak, they’re not talking about our program,” said Peter Hlebowitsh, Department of Teaching and Learning professor and department executive officer at the UI’s College of Education.
The state’s three public universities have grade-point average requirements for students seeking admission into undergraduate teacher education programs: 2.5 for UNI and ISU, currently 2.7 for the UI and rising to 3.0 beginning in March 2013.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 median pay for kindergarten through 12th grade teachers ranged from $51,380 to $53,230. Compare that to $111,570 for pharmacists, $112,760 for lawyers and $146,920 for dentists.
“It’s a very flat profession,” Glass said of education. “We don’t offer a lot of career pathways.”
Margaret Crocco, dean of the UI College of Education, said she and her staff are working daily to get talented science and math students to consider becoming educators.
“I think you have to admit that the financial rewards for those going into teaching are not on a par with those who go into medicine or engineering,” she said. “You have to approach the students who are majoring in science and mathematics and share with them the opportunities that are available.”
Sabrina Leahy, a junior at Iowa State University, is working toward degrees in Spanish and biology. She has entertained fleeting thoughts of being a detective, but ultimately she’s decided to pursue secondary education as her career, making her stand out among her biology major friends.
“I guess, I’ve never really asked them why,” said the 20-year-old from Stevens Point, Wis. “I know whenever I mention it, ‘Oh, I want to go into secondary education,’ others are really surprised by it.”
Leahy is aware that she could potentially make more money using her biology degree in a field other than education.
“There are a lot of other rewards from being a teacher that are not monetary rewards and that’s what I think is great about it,” she said.
Though she doesn’t know why, the bulk of her peers studying biology aren’t planning to go into teaching. Her experience has been that biology faculty have not actively pushed her to consider or reject any career path, including teaching.
“At UNI we don’t really have direct access to those students,” Heston said of the top undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. “Whatever recruiting is being done to draw these students in is being done by the faculty in those majors. The question is, do the faculty in those majors see teaching as a desirable and appropriate career for those students?”
According to Mary Ellen Maske, associate superintendent for the Cedar Rapids Community School District, the applicant pool for specialized teaching positions — including middle- and high-school educators — isn’t overflowing because individuals must have the right licensure and endorsements, yet there’s still a “broad base” of potential hires.
“We are not at a loss for high quality applicants for any of our positions,” she said. “I don’t foresee that changing.”