Back in March, noted education historian Diane Ravitch penned a blog for Education Week called “Why Are Teachers So Upset?” Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University, is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” and was assistant secretary of education in the George H.W. Bush administration. She knows of what she speaks.
Her blog cited a MetLife study stating that teacher job satisfaction was the lowest it has been in 20 years. In three years, it went from 59 percent to 44 percent while the percentage of teachers likely to leave the profession climbed from 17 percent to 29 percent.
Ravitch contends that job satisfaction is directly tied to feeling that the profession is respected by the community. This calls to mind a story in Tuesday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the School District of New Berlin. The district is in danger of losing up to a third of its teachers. A total of 50 out of 314, more than 15 percent, have resigned or retired already this year.
Salaries and benefits are not the main reasons behind the departures. The paper spoke with more than a dozen employees and wrote that the concerns of most have little to do with paying more for retirement or benefits.
“The resentment appears to stem from feelings that their input doesn't matter, that the administration doesn't communicate well with them, that they aren't supported or appreciated by people in the district, and that changes meant to be good for kids are poorly executed and fail to improve teaching.”
The fact is, the teachers quitting the profession are often the very best we have. That is something that should concern everyone. We all want our children to have the very best education possible. High teacher turnover comes with serious consequences.
For starters, studies show that teachers are at their best after seven years in a classroom. With nearly half quitting before their fifth year, there is a serious lack of experienced educators.
Fiscal conservatives take note: all the turnover is extremely expensive. The Alliance for Excellent Education says that schools and districts nationwide spend about $2.2 billion per year recruiting and training replacements.
A major recent study provides more reasons for concern. Entitled “How Teacher Turnover Hurts Student Achievement,” it was conducted by researchers Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, Matthew Ronfeldt of the University of Michigan, and Jim Wyckoff of the University of Virginia.
Mark Simon, an education policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, summarized the findings in the Washington Post. “Turnover affects morale and the professional culture at a school. It weakens the knowledge base of the staff about students and the community. It weakens collegiality, professional support and trust that teachers depend on in their efforts to improve achievement.”
As the debate over education reform continues in Wisconsin, do not lose sight of the fact that schools across the state are losing high-quality teachers, teachers that very are difficult to replace. As the situation in New Berlin proves, it can happen anywhere.