The Cost of Accountability Part 2: A Teacher Shortage
Debates about tenure, firing bad teachers, and other distractors remind me of the story of the elephant and the blind men. Every man has a clear picture of what he sees; unfortunately, it’s a narrow, shortsighted perspective that drains critical resources.
From the trunk perspective, teaching is all about test scores. The ear point of view, argues for higher standards. The eye folks fight to increase competition among teachers and schools. The neck perspective advocates spending money to purchase technology or programs in lieu of teachers. The mouth lobbies to fire all the bad teachers. And the list goes on.
Most people form opinions about education from their experiences as a student. Watching teachers teach provides only a snapshot of what’s going on behind the scenes. The best teachers make teaching look deceptively easy.
In the beginning, it’s all rainbows and lollipops. Then, somewhere around the third year, reality kicks in. The endless paperwork, lesson plans, grading, overwhelming expectations, little to no preparation time, and lack of autonomy starts to take a toll.
Reality has a way of eroding ideals. ~Walt Gardner
Of those who survive the first five years, a small percentage of teachers become so disillusioned they lose hope.
There are teachers who have stayed in the profession longer than they should. Following over a decade of intense focus on accountability, some people believe that firing these teachers is the silver bullet that will fix education. On the surface, this seems to make sense. However, there are consequences.
Let’s say the worst teachers are 5% of the 3.2 million teachers. That leaves 150,000 open teaching positions. Who would replace them? How do we ensure the replacements are better teachers?
There are three factors to consider.
1) We cannot recruit or retain enough teachers to meet the demand at the current rate of attrition.
A looming teacher shortage is now worse than ever. According to the Condition of Future Educators 2015, only four percent of the 1.9 million 2015 high school graduates who took the ACT test said they wanted a career as a teacher, counselor or administrator.
To put the problem in proper perspective, there are 3.2 million teachers in 98,000 public schools in the country. I don’t think it’s possible to recruit and retain the best and the brightest college grads to the field because of the numbers involved. Yes, we can recruit some Ivy Leaguers and their ilk. But I doubt we can keep them for very long. Reality has a way of eroding ideals. Dramatically higher salaries will undoubtedly play a positive role. Yet I don’t think it alone is enough. There has to be respect for the important work that teachers do. ~Walt Gardner, Teacher Recruitment Outlook is Bleak
2) The cost of teacher turnover is high.
“Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year—attrition that costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually, according to a new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. This high turnover rate disproportionately affects high-poverty schools and seriously compromises the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching.” ~The Alliance for Excellent Education
3) The intense focus on accountability is driving out good teachers.
Teaching requires a high level of skill. Unless you’ve walked in the shoes of a teacher for more than an hour, you cannot imagine the complexity and demands.
Children deserve the best and brightest; yet, many believe it’s okay to place untrained and unprepared adults in classrooms. This practice not only adds to attrition, it also drains badly needed resources from skilled teachers.
The time and money spent focused on the worst would be better invested in supporting and improving working conditions for all teachers. Perhaps we could turn the tides by making teaching a respected profession; then, we would have no need to spend trillions on accountability.
There are no simple answers to the challenges in education.
However, this I know for sure. We are wasting time and money focusing on the parts. All the top ranking countries have elevated the teaching profession so much they recruit and retain the best and brightest. It seems they have a better view of the whole picture.
We must do better for the sake of our children.
The biggest reason teachers leave the profession is the lack of autonomy. Why do you suppose this is true?