The beatings will continue until teacher morale improves
Teachers are facing unrivaled criticism from all sides. The education reform movement has targeted them as the culprits behind failing schools. This culture of disrespect, little support, and unrelenting demands takes a toll on teachers – and on our students.
With so much riding on efforts to improve schools, it’s a telling commentary that it takes a front-page story in The New York Times to finally get the attention of the public about the precarious state of teacher morale in this country.Skip to next paragraph
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Teachers don’t choose a career in the classroom for fame, fortune, or power. The overwhelming majority teaches for the inner satisfaction of helping young people. That’s why, for veteran teachers in particular, the vitriol hurled their way has blindsided them. Their younger colleagues have handled the vituperation far better, because they have never known anything else.
It’s hard to understand what reformers expect to accomplish by their incessant attacks on what seems like all teachers in general. These reformers claim that only by holding the feet of teachers to the coals can educational quality improve. It’s this argument that led to the publication in the Los Angeles Times last August of teacher ratings in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest.
Teachers are treated worse
Yet few other large organizations aimed at improving performance participate in this kind of large-scale naming and shaming, because they realize how counterproductive it is. The military, for example, has some of the strictest standards for promotion. But the details of determining who should be moved up are done behind closed doors. The top brass has long known how important it is to maintain morale among the rank and file.
Large private-sector corporations know, too, that exposing and vilifying their employees will do little to improve performance. Even companies who pride themselves on transparent, broadly shared performance reviews share them internally, not with an unscrupulous, angry national public.
Teachers, however, are denied the same kind of treatment. Their performance, which is disproportionately judged by standardized test scores of their students, is broadcast far and wide. They are pilloried on all fronts as the chief culprits behind failing schools even though decades of research has shown that out-of-school factors are responsible for two-thirds of the variation in student achievement, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Just look at the turnover rate
The result is reflected in the turnover rate. Close to 50 percent of teachers nationwide quit the field within the first five years. The cost of replacing these teachers is conservatively estimated to be $2.2 billion a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
California, which has the nation’s largest population of public-school teachers, serves as a case in point. With more than 300,000 teachers serving more than 6 million students, the results of teacher exit surveys can’t be ignored.