Op Ed

How to Stop the Teacher Exodus

Test-based accountability has destroyed the profession.

By - Aug 12th, 2019 10:58 am
Rufus King International High School. Photo from MPS.

Rufus King International High School. Photo from MPS.

It’s time to expose the myth of the teacher shortage. The conditions in today’s classrooms and the ridiculous education policies are responsible for a mass exodus—not shortage—of passionate professionals from their classrooms.

Since the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983, public schools and their teachers have been under assault from a political and financial elite connected to both Democrats and Republicans. Although A Nation at Risk was thoroughly debunked, the failing schools narrative have driven education policy in a simple minded direction—high stakes, test-based “accountability.”

Accountability—loved by Democrats and Republicans—has almost become a religious movement. In fact, the idea of even questioning the usefulness of test-based accountability can cause enraged panic in accountability zealots. “How will we know what children are falling behind?” “How will we close the achievement gap if we don’t measure it?” “How will we fire bad teachers without the data?” “How will we know what schools to close?” “What will happen to my lucrative consulting gig with test company X?”

Time for the hard truth. Test based accountability has done one thing well. Over the past 35 years, we have beyond any doubt, measured and confirmed the achievement gap. That’s it! Nothing else.

However, test-based accountability has destroyed the profession of teaching and caused a mass demoralization and exodus from public school classrooms. And let’s not forget about the thousands of hours of lost instruction time in the sciences, social studies, arts, music and anything else that doesn’t conform to basic literacy and numeracy skills.

It really is an insanity driven by the hatred of public schools and the greed of powerful individuals to use the false narrative of failing schools and bad teachers to drain schools of public tax dollars. Nothing done over the last 35 years in the name of accountability—Nothing! — has done anything positive for the children stuck at the bottom of the achievement gap. The problem was never failing schools and bad teachers. The problem has always been poverty born out of systemic racism.

Who designed such a pernicious system? Not teachers. They’ve been too busy trying to shield their students from the harm being dictated by policy makers and think tanks. However, all of that shielding has taken a toll and the number of demoralized teachers leaving our classrooms cannot be labeled as a simple shortage. It is an exodus.

How do I know it’s an exodus? Because I have surveyed more than 650 teachers for a book that I am writing. Well over 90% of these teachers have responded that they are leaving teaching, thinking about leaving, telling potential new teachers to stay away, seeking mental health services, taking anxiety medications and losing their own families because of conditions in the classroom created by a reckless belief in test based accountability by those in charge of education policy.

The sad reality is that the solution is so simple. End the era of accountability, give schools adequate resources, and just let teachers do their jobs. Our future depends on it.

Tim Slekar is the Dean of the School of Education at Edgewood College and host of BustED Pencils radio show on Talk 92.7 FM Madison and bustedpencils.com

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner

Categories: Education, Op-Ed, Politics

4 thoughts on “Op Ed: How to Stop the Teacher Exodus”

  1. Mingus says:

    In the context of high stakes testing, schools teach the test and work on test taking skills of the students. A very autocratic and rigid academic atmosphere is created which destroys any creative initiatives that teachers might have. It also creates a testing bureaucracy of coaches and consultants that sucks up the scare resources that school have.

  2. blurondo says:

    We’ve been brainwashed for years into believing that charter schools, vouchers and tax payer dollars flooding to private schools were the answers to our ills. When all along it has been racism.
    Racism is the root of everything.
    Thank you for this very important piece.

  3. Lee Bitts says:

    Can someone define “a bad teacher?” There seems to be a widespread belief that there are many of them in MPS, specifically.

    It’s funny but when I look back I can’t think that any of my teachers were bad at teaching. True, I liked some more than others but is liking or not liking someone a criteria for their being “good” or “bad?”

  4. mkwagner says:

    This is an excellent piece, though I would like to make one correction. All the “testing” we’ve done over the last 35 years have ONLY measured which students are able to succeed at standardized tests that are race and socio-economically biased. Quite frankly, having spent my entire career as an educator, I see no value in that kind of data.

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