What California’s Teacher Shortage Says About Education

Just six short years ago, many teachers in California districts began hearing rumors of pink slips coming. The recession was raging, the economy seemed teetering on the brink of collapse and teachers were plentiful. Jobs, however, were not. Any jobs available were receiving hundreds of applications, overwhelming human resource departments and making the odds of actually getting an interview, let alone a job, close to zero.

It all started in the early 2000s when education was touted as one of the best industries to get in to as there was an upcoming wave of teachers who were set to retire in the next five years. Teacher credentialing programs were full and with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act all teachers needed to be considered “highly qualified” in order to be hired, so colleges were also filled with returning students.

When the rumor of pink slips became a reality, the door was shut on thousands of hopeful California teachers who either only were able to teach for a few years before being laid off or recent graduates found themselves holding virtually useless credentials in an already tougher-than-nails job market.

As the jobs dried up, so did the interest in going into teaching. College students became savvier—looking at the potential for future work as opposed to following their passion—and finding that money could be made elsewhere, because education had shut its doors tight.

It seems as though we’ve received an apex of sorts, a meeting of the place where supply and demand suddenly switch, because this year, especially in several Northern California districts, they are scrambling to fill last minute positions in subjects that were impenetrable before: Social Studies and Language Arts.

Several schools have begun the school year understaffed, relying on substitute teachers to begin the school year with students while suitable credentialed teachers are found. And for once, the teachers have the pick of the litter when it comes to jobs.

So what does this mean for the future of California education? For one, I’d say it still isn’t time to go into education. While there are positions open there are still plenty of educators ready and willing to get back into the game. Districts are interested in hiring fresh new teachers that may have a few years’ experience under their belt, but due to cut-backs didn’t get to hold on to their jobs.

If the teacher shortage continues, districts may need to offer better benefits packages, higher salaries, or other benefits in order to entice credentialed and highly qualified teachers in to their area—even if that means poaching them from other areas in California.

While Northern California struggles to replenish its teachers, Southern California is still overly saturated with too many educators and too few job opportunities. Perhaps NorCal is poised to see a great migration of professional educators coming north in order to take advantage not only of the job opportunities they just can’t find down south, but the wide open spaces, affordable housing, and slower pace of life (at least outside of the Bay Area).

One thing is certain: California’s shortage of teachers shows a real cynicism and mistrust of the education system—the same system that was even handing out pink slips to “tenured” teachers. How this shortage will affect students, schools, and test scores remains to be seen.

Tackling California’s Housing Shortage

Californians are used to dealing with natural disasters: record droughts, floods, earthquakes wildfires mudslides, even a periodic cyclone or two. Now we are facing a different kind of disaster – one that is anything but natural and in many ways a result of our own making. Though less dramatic than an earth-splitting earthquake, the ongoing housing shortage in our state endangers our long-term economic vitality and threatens to turn this great state into a gated community for the very wealthy.

Housing in California is Very Expensive

Housing prices across the country have more or less recovered from the epic plunge during the great recession. At the same time, more and more people are choosing to rent, driving rents through the roof. These factors have resulted in higher prices across the country. Nevertheless, California stands out: As of 2015, the typical California house cost $437,000, more than twice as high as a typical American house, which cost $179,000. Median monthly rent here is $1,240, nearly 50% higher than the national average. And we are talking about the median, not a sprawling mansion in Montecito or a penthouse in San Francisco.

Some argue that this is just another one of California’s natural occurrences resulting from too many people wishing to live in our coastal paradise. But unlike an earthquake, California’s housing shortage is a result of bad policy.

Housing prices, like all prices, are a product of the supply and demand for the particular good or service. There is simply not enough housing in California’s most desirable areas where new developers face a three pronged attack: community resistance and a “not in my backyard” mentality of incumbent landowners resistant to any newcomers and any change to the status quo; misguided environmental policies that actually discourage environmentally friendly denser development; and a lack of financial incentive for local governments to approve new construction. As a result, supply is restricted. The mere act of proposing a new development is so costly that it drives away developers wishing to develop additional housing stock. If new housing is ultimately built, the number of new units is usually far below what was originally proposed or what the market is able to support.

Priced out of the most desirable areas, many turn to far out inland communities. This drives prices up in those previously more affordable areas as well. It also leads to increased road congestion and air pollution.

Affordable Housing Programs Alone Won’t Help

Unfortunately, affordable housing programs are both too costly and insufficient to address the shortage. Most programs require a direct cash infusion from already strapped local governmental bodies. There is simply no political will to increase funding for most of these programs. In addition, most only help narrow groups of people: the working poor, the disabled, the elderly.

Blame Zoning

The only policy that can help all Californians is encouraging additional infill development in developed areas that are seeing the great outflux of residents fleeing increasing rents. Local zoning ordinances and environmental regulations need to be revised to promote high density, small lot infill development. Local community groups, the source of much of the opposition of new construction, can no longer have veto power over new entrants into their areas. Finally, planning needs to be done at the regional or even state level so that California’s many municipalities are not making decisions without taking their neighboring communities and state interests into account.

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Progressives Need to Reject GMO Truthers

Progressives Need to Reject Gwyneth Paltrow and Embrace Science

While conservatives cite religion, ideology, faith, tradition, and keeping the status quo; liberals and progressives have always prided themselves on embracing technological advancement, science, reason, and beneficial social change. GMOs are the embodiment of all things so greatly value. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the use of GMOs and suspend irrational fear and suspicion.

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GMOs Reduce Hunger World Wide

GMOs have done more to benefit the world and reduce hunger than almost any other recent advancement. Paul Berg, the American biochemist and Stanford professor that helped develop the practice won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1980. In essence, modifying the gene structure of food organisms does something that we humans have been doing for years: selective breeding.

Except instead of doing selective breeding in the field through trial and error, scientists now do it in a controlled lab setting. It’s the modern day advancement on an ancient practice. Throughout the history of agriculture, if a farmer wanted a heartier, bigger tomato, he or she would cross­breed various species of plants until achieving the desired outcome. This sometimes took years and was rarely done with scientific precision, and often with some unanticipated and negative consequences.

But today, an agricultural scientist can isolate a gene from one plant and add it to another plant in a lab.  As a result, we can have heartier, even more nutritious crops.

GMOs Don’t Cause Any Adverse Health Consequences

After countless studies, we have yet to see any evidence that GMOs lead to cancer, autism, or any other disease that the fear mongers and GMO truthers claim GMOs cause. The widely cited GMO corn tumor link, for example, has been debunked. In addition, genetic modification does not result in more toxins in food.

The only way a GMO could be toxic is if a food scientist did so intentionally. Theoretically, a scientist could, if she wanted to, add a gene to a tomato that causes it to produce arsenic. Or she could just inject a tomato with arsenic. But neither scenario is really very likely, so it’s not something we need to waste our brain space worrying about.

GMO Labeling is a Pretty Stupid Idea

Like starving yourself to lose weight when you’re broke, GMO labeling is a pretty stupid idea.

Recently, there has been a swell of support behind labeling GMO products in grocery stores, and a labeling question has even made it on a state election ballot. Proponents of labels argue that if GMOs are harmful, consumers have a right to know what foods contain them. And if they are not harmful, then there is no harm in having the label.

This argument is flawed in a number of ways. First, we generally require labeling only if something has been shown to be harmful as there is a cost in requiring producers to label and would also signal that the products should be avoided.

In the case of GMOs, there hasn’t been one study showing that it is in fact harmful. We can’t and shouldn’t do something simply to indulge people’s ignorance.

Also, GMO is a tool – it’s not a product. Labeling a tool rather than a product is problematic. Why not then label wheat that was picked by combine rather than by hand?

And finally, consumers are confused about food and nutrition as it is. The last thing we need is another label that doesn’t offer the customer any new information. The effect of over-labeling is to inoculate consumers. Too many warnings just cause consumers to tune them out. This is a pretty serious concern as there are some actually legitimate purposes to food labeling and which will only be undermined.

Anti-GMO is Anti-Science

Do corporations stand to gain from the proliferation of GMOs? Almost certainly – just as corporations stand to gain from the proliferation of computers, vaccinations, and automobiles. Are there advancements in agriculture that harm public health? Yes, and there are certainly reasons for the public to be educated about the food they consume.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Before jumping on the anti-GMO bandwagon, look at the actual science. Agricultural advancements have tremendous potential to improve nutrition and feed our ever-shrinking planet. GMO fear-mongers, including the likes of celebrities who yearn for greater relevancy, only undermine the efforts of those who work to improve the quality of the lives of millions of people around the world.