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Benefits, Bad Stuff and The Future of Public Education

Many people are passionate about public education. But passion has two extremes: love and hate. Those who value public education are quick to describe teachers as over-worked and underpaid. Those who believe public school is a waste of tax dollars usually argue the opposite teachers are overpaid and under-worked.

But there is no need for such arguments. The facts about the teaching profession speak for themselves.

In any job, there are benefits competitive salary, prestige, and personal fulfillment, for example. There are, likewise, less pleasant aspects lower salary, long hours, and lowliness. How much unpleasantness a person will tolerate depends on the trade-off: pay and prestige can make up for long hours. Conversely, personal fulfillment may compensate for a lower salary.

This is the ratio of benefits to bad stuff; the B-to-BS ratio, if you will.

A comprehensive study the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE includes Harvard, Stanford, and five other institutions) examined demographic trends in the teaching profession, revealing the B-to-BS ratio in public school teaching.

The study found that as many as 30% to 40% of high schools have trouble filling vacant positions. Conventional wisdom had been that this teacher shortage was caused by too few new teachers completing degree/licensing programs to replace the graying teaching staff now reaching retirement age.

The CPRE study, however, found that the number of new graduates already equals or exceeds the number of retiring teachers, and has for some time. In any given year, the turnover rate of teachers is 15% – 25%, but retirement accounts for less than 15% of that turnover.

Eighty-five percent of teachers leaving the profession are not retiring; they’re just
leaving for more attractive careers.

The top reasons cited for leaving the profession included low salary, heavy workload, lack of autonomy, and lack of support from parents and administrators, in short, too little benefit and too much bad stuff.

Our nation’s teacher shortage is not a shortage of qualified teachers. Rather, it is a shortage of qualified teachers who are willing to offer their services under current wages and working conditions. Simply put, teachers are over-worked and under-paid; and this low B-to-BS ratio is driving qualified, talented teachers away from the profession.

Modern education reform advocates love to evangelize the importance of talented teachers, but they seldom promote policies that attract or retain such talent. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote of elevating the teaching profession but then presided over the largest de-professionalizing, demoralizing, sweeter-carrot-and-sharper-stick public education policy in U.S. history.

This education agenda is beyond No Child Left Behind on steroids. It has taken virtually every disproven strategy, every failed policy, and every autonomy-draining, de-professionalizing reform and stacked them on the BS side of the ratio. Then, it tops the pile with a dollop of good old-fashioned teacher-bashing.

Instead, we must fundamentally change the B-to-BS ratio of public school teaching. We must stop treating teachers like children and re-professionalize the profession; starting with professional salaries and professional autonomy.

Otherwise, we will continue our revolving-door system of staffing our classrooms; and one day discovers no one is waiting to enter.

Bloggers across the Internet will be posting and advancing debate on how we can all work together to improve education in America. Be sure to visit EdVoices on the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform, as we will be featuring the latest posts from education’s top bloggers.

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