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VICTOR JOECKS: Worst CCSD schools have the most teacher vacancies

The best schools in Clark County don’t have many job openings. The obvious corollary should be deeply alarming: The teacher shortage at low-performing schools is catastrophically bad.

The new school year starts Monday. Almost 10 percent of classrooms won’t have a licensed teacher. As of late last week, there are more than 1,450 openings for licensed teachers listed on the district’s website. That’s significantly more than in previous years.

But openings aren’t spread evenly across the district. The best schools have a scarcity of vacancies. The worst schools have a scarcity of teachers.

The district has 28 one-star elementary schools, after removing rural and unique schools. It has 21 five-star schools. The most recent ratings are from the 2018-19 school year.

The average one-star elementary schools has around six openings. That includes six schools with 10 or more unfilled jobs. Only seven of those schools have two or fewer openings. Elizondo Elementary School has 15 job openings. It’s likely numerous schools will start the year with vacancy rates of more than 20 percent.

In contrast, the five-star schools have an average of 1.6 openings. Of the 21 schools, 18 have two or fewer openings.

You see the same trend in middle and high schools. One-star middle schools have twice as many vacancies on average as the five-star schools. Five-star high schools average fewer than 2.5 openings. At two-star high schools, the average is more 14 openings per campus.

To address this, you first have to understand why it’s happening. Teacher pay generally isn’t based on whether an educator works at a low-performing school. As teachers progress, they tend to move to better-performing schools. That’s completely understandable. It’s easier and more enjoyable to teach children who are at grade level. For many teachers, high-performing schools in the suburbs are closer to where they live, too.

This creates a counterproductive spiral of doom. The worst schools struggle to retain teachers, which means students learn less. Lower-performing students make it harder to attract teachers.

This is why private-sector companies pay people more to work in undesirable locations. That should be an obvious response, but the district recently handed out across-the-board raises. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t incentivize teachers to work at poorly performing schools.

Part of the problem is that the district can’t just change the pay scale. The Clark County Education Association must approve a shift like that. That’s unlikely. It’s yet another reason to get rid of collective bargaining for government employees.

Here are other solutions, some of which would require legislative approval.

■ Switch back to half-day K to free teachers. Full-day kindergarten is academically worthless, if not counterproductive. The state has also been expanding pre-K programs, another waste of money. That includes requiring pre-K instructors to have a teacher’s license. It’d be better to have those teachers in elementary classrooms.

■ Instead of doubling up classes in certain schools, increase class size more broadly. Send non-classroom teachers back into the classroom. Get rid of teacher licensing or create broad exceptions. Allow principals to hire candidates they think could do a good job in the classroom. They must be able to fire those who perform poorly.

■ Finally, offer school choice. Give $6,000 in an education savings account for enrolled students who leave the district this year. The Legislature should pass a broad school-choice program next year and remove restrictions on new charter schools.

These ideas would help ensure more students have a teacher in the classroom. But they wouldn’t expand Superintendent Jesus Jara’s fiefdom, so they’re unlike to go anywhere. Instead, you’ll see another example of how you can’t fix a broken system by throwing money at it.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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