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Elaine Wynn, president of the Nevada state board of education, said that the teacher shortage had become a dangerous situation for the schools. The shortages are most pronounced in schools enrolling high proportions of low-scoring and poor children.
Nevada’s two largest school districts this week said they’d hired hundreds of first-time teachers over the summer with the help of recruiters, billboards and even a Clark County superintendent zip-lining through downtown Las Vegas in a superhero cape.
But when it was Nevada Board of Education President Elaine Wynn’s chance to speak about the nearly 1,000 teacher positions statewide that still remain vacant and are being filled with stopgap measures such as long-term subs, she didn’t mince words.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this alarmed in my job as I have been today,” Wynn said at a board meeting Thursday, calling the situation a human resource crisis. “We’re going to all sink. This is horrific.”
Nevada is suffering an acute teacher shortage as its student population rises and its primary supplier of educators — California — deals with a shortage of its own. Colleges there are producing fewer teaching graduates, and Nevada colleges are far from being able to churn out enough homegrown education graduates to meet the state’s needs.
Some blame the shortage on low pay, especially for first-year teachers, and a general lack of respect for the profession.
Educators know that the growing teacher shortage is a direct result of more than a decade of failed reforms, especially those that blame teachers for low test scores. If the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Obama administration keep up their attacks on teaching, who will want to teach in any district?
Board members, as usual for non-educators, are willing to hire anyone anywhere to be teachers in the schools of Nevada.
Board members underscored that the districts can’t stave off the teacher shortage alone.
Kevin Melcher, who’s also a regent for the Nevada System of Higher Education, suggested recruiting the spouses of workers who move to Nevada for jobs with the new Tesla battery factory under construction east of Reno.
“Is there a way we can work with these new industries … to help them recruit for us?” he said.
Wynn, who co-founded the Wynn Resorts casino company with her ex-husband Steve Wynn, said districts could learn from professionals in the casino industry who fill positions and attract throngs of people to nightclubs.
She also called for making the teacher shortage a recurring item on state board agendas.
“We can’t be satisfied to let this continue,” Wynn said. “To take comfort that it’s a national emergency — that’s not the Nevada way.”
Now here is the question: What can schools learn from the casino industry? Put slot machines into the schools? Have gaming tables in the lunch room? Offer free sodas?
Las Vegas (Clark County) has engaged in various theatrical appeals, such as the superintendent “zip-lining” down a major street in the city, wearing a red Superman cape.
Richard Ingersoll, who studies teacher recruitment and retention, says the biggest problem–and the biggest solution– facing Las Vegas and other districts is not finding new teachers, but retaining and supporting the teachers they have now.
“Well-paying jobs with good conditions don’t have to have gimmicks to attract quality people,” says Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania who studies teacher demographics and retention. “You have to put your money where your mouth is, or I guess in this case where your zip line is.” He says districts should focus on retention instead of flashy recruitment techniques. “It’s not that we can’t recruit new teachers; it’s that we lose too many.”