The next teaching crisis

This week, the OECD issued a report that finds US teachers work longer hours than counterparts in other countries but don't get paid any more. A second study finds that, unsurprisingly, teachers aren't thrilled with this state of affairs. 53 percent of teachers who leave the profession report that working conditions at their new job are better than those of teaching.

In the typical modern US school district, it is too difficult to fire truly bad teachers, which is one of the reasons the country finds itself in the midst of a wave of state and federally mandated evaluation reform. Since at least the founding of Teach for America, alternative pipelines to expand the pool of potential teachers have been increasingly popular.

Yet these two reports suggest that if the US wants to improve teaching, it also needs to take a hard look at how it can improve the teaching experience. Since the early 1980s, standardized tests have placed teachers under a new type of stress to demonstrate results that almost everyone agrees represent only one of the host of positive outcomes we want kids to achieve. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have increased that pressure increased exponentially at a time when most teachers salaries have either remained flat or decreased. 

More pressure and more work for less money sounds like a recipe tailor made to decrease employee morale, drive promising teachers to other careers, and keep young people from ever considering the profession. If we allow teaching conditions to be awful, we cannot be surprised when people with options choose not to teach.

Elizabeth Sobka