WHY TEACHERS QUIT
Many legislators, privatizers, and “reformers” continue to blame teachers for low achievement. Unionism is anathema to some because teachers unions, in many places, are the only thing preventing the compete corporate takeover of public education. The right wing in America continues to push myths about failing public schools and the dual “solution” of charters and vouchers.
The teacher shortage currently afflicting public education in the U.S. is not surprising. Fewer college students are choosing education as a career due to declining wages, fewer benefits, lower social status, and the constant drumbeat of failure (see here, here, and here).
Public schools are not failing. Public schools reflect the failure of the nation to build an equitable society.
Studies are showing what public educators already know…that “reform” is driving teachers from the classroom.
In a trio of studies, Michigan State University education expert Alyssa Hadley Dunn and colleagues examined the relatively new phenomenon of teachers posting their resignation letters online. Their findings, which come as many teachers are signing next year’s contracts, suggest educators at all grade and experience levels are frustrated and disheartened by a nationwide focus on standardized tests, scripted curriculum and punitive teacher-evaluation systems.
Teacher turnover costs more than $2.2 billion in the U.S. each year and has been shown to decrease student achievement in the form of reading and math test scores.
“The reasons teachers are leaving the profession has little to do with the reasons most frequently touted by education reformers, such as pay or student behavior,” said Dunn, assistant professor of teacher education. “Rather, teachers are leaving largely because oppressive policies and practices are affecting their working conditions and beliefs about themselves and education.”
A teacher from Florida tells why she’s leaving.
Like many other teachers across the nation, I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education. Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.
This is not a resignation letter, but this letter from a teacher in Oklahoma is indicative of the problems public school teachers face on a daily basis.
We can no longer afford rolls of colored paper or paint or tape to make signs to support and advertise our Student Council activities. This fall our football team won’t charge through a decorated banner as they take the field because we can’t afford to make the banner. There won’t be any new textbooks in the foreseeable future. Broken desks won’t be replaced. We’re about to ration copy paper and we’ve already had the desktop printers taken out of our rooms.
We live in fear that our colleagues will leave us, not just because they are our friends, but because the district wouldn’t replace them even if we could lure new teachers to our inner-city schools during the teacher shortage you[, the legislature] have caused. We fear our classes doubling in size.
We fear becoming as ineffective as you are. Not because we can’t or won’t do our job, like you, but because you keep passing mandates to make us better while taking away all the resources we need just to maintain the status quo. We fear that our second jobs will prevent us from grading the papers we already have to do from home. We fear our families will leave us because we don’t have time for them.
If we don’t use test scores to evaluate teachers what should we use? This question implies that test scores are not only appropriate to use as a teacher evaluation, but there isn’t anything else which is as accurate. That’s not true. Using student achievement tests to evaluate teachers (or schools) is an invalid since achievement tests are developed to evaluate students, not their teachers.
A good teacher develops relationships with her students. Good relationships improve the classroom atmosphere and create the feelings of safety and trust necessary for learning. The same is necessary for teacher evaluation; there must be a feeling of trust between the evaluator, usually an administrator, and the teacher. Russ Walsh explains…
Reformers can’t see this very simple and most basic fact of teacher evaluation because they are focused on a fool’s errand of seeking objectivity through numbers and a plan designed to weed out low performers, rather than a plan designed to improve performance of all teachers. These folks could have easily found out the flaws in the plan. All they needed to do was spend some time in schools talking to teachers and supervisors. To the extent that current teacher evaluation schemes interfere with teachers and supervisors developing trusting relationships, they are pre-ordained to fail.
Ask most teachers. They will tell you that they didn’t choose education because of the high pay. Most people who become teachers do so because they want to make a difference in the lives of children.
“Reformers” don’t understand that people don’t become teachers for the huge salaries. Autonomy, respect, and a living wage, is enough. Teachers are quitting because in many areas, they aren’t getting any of those.
“Teachers have also been subjected to demonization” from people and politicians from both the right and left, said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute and one of the authors of the report, noting that Education Secretary John King in January felt the need to offer what many saw as an apology to teachers after taking over the Education Department. “Despite the best of intentions, teachers and principals have felt attacked and unfairly blamed for the challenges our nation faces as we strive to improve outcomes for all students,” King said at the time.
Merit pay is, as Diane Ravitch says, the idea that never works and never dies.
If you define “student learning” simply by a standardized test score, then you might be able to design a merit pay plan which will get higher test scores, but that’s not education.
This report in Education Week summarizing research into merit pay, indicates that merit pay helps teachers find ways to increase test scores for some students, oftentimes by learning to “game the system.”
Teacher participation in a merit-pay program led to the equivalent of four extra weeks of student learning, according to a new analysis of 44 studies of incentive-pay initiatives in the United States and abroad.
Peter Greene follows up on the Education Week report. He emphasizes that testing is not teaching and that “gaming the system” is essentially paying people more who learn how to cheat.
The basis of the research is wrong. Education is not a test score. Learning is not a test score.
Springer’s research suffers from the same giant, gaping ridiculous hole as the research that he meta-analyzed– he assumes that his central measure measures what it claims to measure. This is like meta-analysis of a bunch of research from eight-year-olds who all used home made rulers to measure their own feet and “found” that their feet are twice as big as the feet of eight-year-olds in other country. If you don’t ever check their home-made rulers for accuracy, you are wasting everyone’s time.
At a minimum, this study shows that the toxic testing that is already narrowing and damaging education in this country can be given a extra jolt of destructive power when backed with money. The best this study can hope to say is that incentives encourage teachers to aim more carefully for the wrong target. As one of the EdWeek commenters put it, “Why on earth would you want to reward teachers with cash for getting higher test scores?” What Springer may have proven is not that merit pay works, but that Campbell’s Law does.
Education is more than a test score. Teachers with experience provide more than test prep for their students.
Researchers Helen F. Ladd and Lucy C. Sorenson, both of Duke University, in Durham, N.C., analyzed records from about 1.2 million middle school students in North Carolina from 2007 to 2011, including absences, reported disciplinary offenses, and test scores. The data also contain responses from 6th through 8th graders about time spent on homework and their reading habits…
Regarding nontest outcomes, the data show that as teachers gained experience, they were linked to lower rates of student absenteeism. The researchers postulate that more experienced teachers got better at motivating students and in classroom management, resulting in better attendance and fewer infractions.