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Billions wasted on teacher attrition

By Nancy Salvato
web posted November 22, 2004

I wonder how many people remember the commercial where, in the beginning, children are shown talking about what they want to be when they grow up. In the second half, a drug addicted adult is shown while a voiceover questions how many of these children thought they'd grow up to be a junkie. One has to wonder how many teachers ever envisioned leaving their chosen profession because an administration would make it completely unbearable to remain intact and true to oneself.

Most teachers enter the profession with a basic understanding that their role is to get into the trenches and work with the kids six hours a day, five days a week. Most teacher candidates assume that there will be some fun in working with children and that there will be gratification in preparing those children for their future. Those who look at teaching as a lifelong career realize that teachers don't move up in their profession unless they actually leave the classroom. As a result, lifelong teachers are the perpetual foot soldiers in a profession that has an overabundance of officers leading the ranks.

Surprisingly, teachers who have accumulated many years of experience are not seen as sources of good information about what works and what doesn't. Teachers can't tell administrators what to do. Instead, administrators rely on unsubstantiated studies published by those sitting in "ivory towers" (these are the same institutions that show Michael Moore films and kindly refer to his blatant propaganda as documentary). Much of the left leaning pedagogy touted by these university professors is about as far fetched as Fahrenheit 9/11, yet teachers are supposed to implement their ideas without question, despite an infinite wisdom accumulated through years of lesson planning and real world practice.

There are many qualified, though currently unemployed, teachers who could probably fill some of the estimated 2.2 million teaching openings between 2000 and 2010. There shouldn't be a need for so many school districts to do so much recruiting at university job fairs. Evidently, teacher attrition is becoming a big problem, though. School districts simply aren't holding onto their teachers. Therefore, funds that should be used to teach our children are used to recruit and further educate teachers who keep leaving the school districts at a cost of around $2.6 billion annually.

Schools of education blame the school districts for poor work conditions. Others cite schools of education, who are graduating these eventual failure/quitters, as the problem. These schools receive funding based on how many students are enrolled and graduate, not based on how long these graduates stay in their profession. It is suggested they are not screening teacher candidates appropriately.

Neither of these scenarios is close to correct in outlining the reasons for attrition. Many school districts are simply letting their teachers go – even though it's expensive to do so. True, schools of education are churning out graduates and there are probably some who should not ever go into a classroom. But school districts look for reasons to get rid of experienced teachers. They cost more money. They get set in their ways because after they figure out what works, they want to keep doing it. They don't want to be micromanaged. Now there is evidence.

There is a guidebook, drafted by the Department of Labor and sent to principals, that "provides a step-by-step outline for rating teachers as unsatisfactory, firing tenured teachers and school aides, and preventing administrators' decisions from being overruled by a judge." The NY Department of Education doesn't want any teacher to see this 61 page manual that tells how to dismiss teachers without violating union rules.

No wonder the public school system perpetually needs more money. It is expensive to recruit, hire and train new teachers every year. Eventually the new recruits catch on. They leave on their own or they are dismissed. I can't imagine too many private industries could survive if they recruited and trained their employees, only to let them go every few years. How can a public school system?

Nancy Salvato is a Research Associate with Americans for Limited Government.  She is an experienced educator and an independent contractor with Prism Educational Consulting. She serves as Educational Liaison for Illinois' 23rd Senatorial District. She works nationally and locally furthering the cause of Civic Education. Her writing is widely published on the internet and occasionally in print venues such as the Washington Times. Her opinions have been heard on select radio programs across the nation. Additionally, her writing has been recognized by the US Secretary of Education. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2004

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