Report: Idaho Teachers Feel “Strong Undercurrent Of Despair"

Jan 9, 2013

Teacher morale is low throughout Idaho.  And school administrators have serious concerns about recruiting and retaining teachers. Those are some of the findings from a new study presented to lawmakers Tuesday.

Lance McCleve with Idaho's Office of Performance Evaluations was the chief researcher on the report and presented its findings to lawmakers.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

But rumors of a mass exodus of teachers have been exaggerated. That’s what Lance McCleve with Idaho’s Office of Performance Evaluations says. According to his study “Workforce Issues Affecting Public School Teachers” which he presented to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, 1,112 of the 16,500 Idaho teachers left their jobs last school year. That’s up just 175 from the year before. But he says fears of a mass teacher exodus in the near future are not unfounded.

“We could see an undercurrent of despair among teachers,” McCleve says. “And this isn’t to say all teachers are having a really hard time but we did see a large proportion and responses and results from our surveys that show a large proportion of teacher that seem to perceive that there’s a climate that disparages their effort and belittles their contribution.”

Luci Willits, chief of staff to Idaho schools’ superintendent Tom Luna says it’s clear teacher morale is low.

“And I think that’s consistent when you’ve had a system that’s had financial difficulties,” Willits says. “And where we’re asking people to do more, usually with less.  And it’s something that we need to look at. We obviously want workforce and employees to feel good about what they’re doing.”

Willets disagrees with critics who say Idaho teacher’s feel despair because of her department’s attempt to overhaul the state’s education system through the 2011 Students Come First laws. Voters repealed those last November through three ballot propositions.

Willits says increased compensation would go a long way to help teachers feel more valued and she says the state’s Department of Education supports that. For an example she cites the pay for performance bonuses that were part of Students Come First.

The OPE report shows the vast majority of Idaho principals and superintendents say their biggest obstacle to recruiting teachers is compensation. The average teacher salary in Idaho is $43,000 a year. That’s lower than five of Idaho’s six neighboring states and it takes, on average, more than ten years teaching to reach that level.

McCleve speaking to members of JLOC
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Another barrier to recruitment is a shortage of qualified applicants in a few hard to fill areas. Top among those is special education then math then science. However, on the whole the majority of administrators say new Idaho teachers come into the field prepared.

Another concern for superintendents and principals is class size. Idaho’s average class size is 24 students but that can vary widely from district to district. Class size worries often begin when a class reaches 25 students.

Most administrators are also concerned about retention. While the increase in teachers leaving has been modest it comes mostly from those who cite “personal reasons” for leaving.

Read the full report by clicking here.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio