Bonus for teachers isn't in the mail

Whether it be the U.S. Supreme Court, Nevada's Supreme Court, or recruiting teachers, money affects peoples' decisions.

The $2,000 signing incentive, 3 percent bonuses and possibility of an additional 2 percent raise approved by the Legislature has appeared to result in the local school districts being able to fill classroom teachers' positions for next year. I'm told that also includes math and science teachers.

While that's good news, the money needed to support the 3 percent bonus is not in the mail. Apparently, the 3 percent budgeted was based on the 1999-2000 school year. Because of growth, that $34 million is not enough money. Now just who in Carson City couldn't figure out that you can't use two-year-old data to make these determinations? Teachers in Clark County will not be getting a full 3 percent bonus.

Unless someone gets to the U.S. Congress, the teacher shortage nationwide is going to get a whole lot worse. In the House version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESEA, the main federal funding source, there is a provision which would mandate that all high school teachers either major in the academic discipline they teach or pass an exit exam on the subject matter.

Like many states, Nevada has a licensing system that includes testing. So what is being called for by the House of Representatives is being done to some extent in most states. The difference is each state has its own set of tests with their own pass scores.

The intention is good. There is a very large percentage of junior high and high school teachers who are academically not prepared to teach in their assigned area.

To reach the goal of having 25 percent of the eighth grade student population taking algebra next year, local school districts will assign K-8 licensed teachers to those classes. K-8 teacher candidates in college receive the same preparation whether they teach all subjects in first grade or are assigned a single subject in eighth grade. My guess is that K-8 trained teachers assigned to teach algebra are woefully underprepared.

The San Diego Unified School District required that all their eighth-grade students take algebra last year; 70 percent of those students have to retake algebra next year. Now if that's because the students didn't attend regularly, didn't pay attention in class, didn't do their homework or didn't study, then they should have to repeat.

But if that retention rate is because they didn't have a qualified teacher, then you can hardly blame that on the students.

Nationwide, about 50 percent of the teachers who teach in the secondary level have a major in the field they teach. The others might have a minor. Some might have an education degree with an emphasis on a subject area, others might have taken a minimum number of credits to be licensed and a few others might have some type of emergency or provisional license.

School districts will not be able to attract and retain people to teach in schools with a starting salary of $27,000. If the well-intended House version of ESEA passes, the shortage of qualified teachers will get worse - especially in chronic areas such as math and science.

While it only makes sense that you want someone who knows the content to teach, it also makes sense that you have to offer a compensation package that will get them in the classroom and keep them there.

On a different note, a good number of teachers resigned from the teachers' union this summer. Many are upset with the lack of a raise, inadequate classroom supplies, or upset with health benefits being dropped because of the union's inability to get additional funding from the Legislature.

With the governor either not having or wanting to discuss a shifting in the tax structure until after elections, it would seem those classroom teachers would want to have a stronger, more united representation before the next election cycle.

Resigning might be a feel-good position now, but it can only be seen as a dumb move as the stakes get higher during the next session. The new tax structure, no matter what it is, will have to be lived with for at least a decade. So much for critical thinking.

Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a former member of the Nevada Board of Education. His e-mail address is


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