America's Next Education Crisis

Helping Students Graduate

08/09/2011  |  Franklin Schargel

America faces a severe school dropout problem, and students who leave school do not cause it. Far more teachers, by percentage, drop out of school than students. According to a variety of sources, 46 percent of teachers leave the field—drop out—within five years. A conservative national estimate of the cost of replacing public school teachers who have dropped out of the profession is $2.2 billion a year.

Let’s look at some data: If the cost of replacing public school teachers who transfer schools is added in, the total cost reaches $9 billion every year (Alliance for Excellent Education, August 2005). For individual states, cost estimates range from $8.5 million in North Dakota to half a billion dollars in Texas. In the next decade, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association, U.S. schools will need approximately 2 million new teachers.
Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school related factors that contribute to what students learn at school..

The large number of teachers who will be retiring are taking with them their knowledge and expertise, which will exacerbate the situation. It is not only the loss of warm bodies that concerns us, but also the difficulty of building an experienced base of teaching and learning techniques that the new, inexperienced and weakly trained staff will need time to accumulate. Some states already faced with the problem are issuing emergency licenses, thereby weakening, rather than strengthening, the teaching cadre of their schools. Some administrators have had to hire teachers with little or no classroom experience, causing classroom management problems, not only for those newly hired but also for the classrooms and teachers nearby. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the federal legislation for standards-based education reform, gives parents the right to know the qualifications of their children’s teachers and paraprofessionals.  Teachers are the most essential component in the learning process. Far too many school districts are facing an uphill battle when it comes to recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers, especially those who serve poor students.  In fact, students in poor and minority schools are twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher and are 61 percent more likely to be assigned an uncertified teacher. Consider the following:

  1. “Every school day, nearly a thousand teachers leave the field of teaching. Another thousand teachers change schools, many in pursuit of better working conditions. And the figures do not include the teachers who retire” (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 2003).
  2. That number is dramatically higher in hard-to-staff schools in the inner city and in minority neighborhoods where poverty rules. The rate of attrition is roughly 50 percent higher in poor schools than in wealthier ones (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 2003).
  3. Among teachers who transferred schools, lack of planning time (65 percent), too heavy a workload (60 percent), problematic student behavior (53 percent), and a lack of influence over school policy (52 percent) were cited as common sources of dissatisfaction (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001).
  4. “The current teachers’ shortage represents arguably the most imminent threat to the nation’s schools. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that approximately 2.2 million teachers will be needed over the next decade — an average of more than 200,000 new teachers annually” (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001).
  5. We do not have a teacher shortage. The perceived teaching shortage is, rather, a retention problem. In fact, teachers are leaving the field faster than colleges are preparing new entries (Howard, 2003).
  6. New teachers are particularly vulnerable because they are more likely than more experienced teachers to be assigned to low-performing schools in urban areas where the dropout rates reach or exceed 50 percent. It is here that teachers need the most assistance, yet most new teachers are given little professional support or feedback and few are provided with demonstrations of what it takes to help their students succeed (Ingersoll, 2003).
  7. We are losing the best and brightest. A study of the North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL) found that a majority of superintendents in the region indicated that 75 percent to 100 percent of the teachers leaving are “effective or “very effective” in the classroom. The loss of talented teachers is also significant in rural schools, which, in addition, face the problem of lower teacher salaries and the difficulty of recruiting new teachers.
  8. Why is teacher turnover so high? In one analysis of teacher turnover, teachers reported that they left because of failure to receive the administrative support they expected (Ingersoll, 2003).
  9. Fifty-three percent of today’s teachers are Baby Boomers; in 18 states, more than half of the teachers are already over age 50; and in 17 states, 45 percent of the teaching workforce is over age 50 (Carroll & Foster, 2009).
  10. A recent report, “Three Distinct Possibilities,” from Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates ( offers a comprehensive look at how teachers across the country differ in perspectives on their profession. Based on a nationwide survey of nearly 900 teachers, the study of more than 100 questions revealed three broad categories representative of teachers across the nation that the researchers labeled “Disheartened,” “Contented,” and “Idealistic.” The view that teaching is “so demanding, it’s a wonder more people don’t burn out” is pervasive, particularly among the Disheartened. This group, 40 percent of teachers surveyed, tends to have taught longer and be older than the Idealists.  More than half teach in low-income schools. By contrast, teachers in the Contented group (37 percent of teachers surveyed) viewed teaching as a lifelong career. These teachers tend to be veterans — 94 percent have been teaching for more than 10 years, the majority has graduate degrees, and about two thirds are teaching in middle-income or affluent schools. However, it is the Idealists (23 percent of teachers surveyed) who voiced the strongest sense of mission about teaching. More than half are 32 or younger and teach in elementary schools, and 63 percent said that they intend to stay in education, whereas 36 percent said they do plan to leave classroom teaching for other jobs in the field.

What has caused this problem of recruiting and retaining teachers? According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, part of the problem has been caused by the failure of America’s colleges of education to adequately prepare future teachers for success. “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom,” said Duncan speaking at Columbia University in October 2009.

More than half of the nation’s teachers graduate from a school of education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 220,000 students, or 80 percent of incoming teachers, graduate from a teachers college every year. Noting that America’s schools will need to hire up to 200,000 first-time teachers annually for the next five years, Duncan said that those new teachers need the knowledge and skill to prepare students for success in the global economy. Secretary Duncan’s words echo the words of Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University. His report, “Educating School Teachers,’’ released by the Education Schools Project (Levine, 2006), found that three of five education school alumni said their training failed to prepare them to teach.

‘’Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of education, unruly and chaotic. There is a chasm between what goes on in the university and what goes on in the classroom,’’ said Dr. Levine, who currently serves as the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The report goes on to say that most teacher education programs are deeply flawed. The coursework in teacher education programs is in disarray nationwide. Unlike other professions such as law and medicine, there is no common length of study or set of required skills.

In order for schools to be eligible for the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top funds, states must remove legal barriers to linking student achievement data to teachers and principals. Grant applications will be scored based on state plans to differentiate teacher and principal effectiveness. Obviously, states and schools within them will now have to gather, interpret, and disseminate that information.

Teaching can be a frustrating job. Unlike the idealized pictures of students sitting patiently with their hands folded, waiting for knowledge to be poured in to empty heads, today’s students come to class bringing with them enormous challenges. Children are expected to deal with divorce, drugs, violence, merged families, and parents who do not speak to them. They come to school with various abilities, needs, and capabilities. For some, parents have made efforts to prepare them for learning. For others, parents have done little. They have not taken the time nor had the energy to train their children in some of the fundamentals such as reading, studying, learning the alphabet, and even how to spell their names. School administrators need to understand these challenges and create school cultures that allow teachers to reach every child. This means that teachers need to take chances that may not always succeed. In dealing with people, we do not expect every experiment to succeed. Doctors, like teachers, do not have 100 percent success. Teachers are becoming more frustrated than ever in dealing with the problems they face. “A Possible Dream: Retaining California Teachers So All Students Can Learn” (Futernick, 2007) identified challenges to teachers:

  • More and more children are coming to school without family support
  • Teachers are required to do more and more in a limited period of time
  • Teachers are expected to be experts in all fields
  • There is too little planning time
  • There is too much paperwork
  • Unreliable assistance from the district
  • Lack of administrative support
  • Working weekends without pay
  • Spending summer vacations taking college classes or preparing for the next school year
  • Undue pressure from parents
  • Students needing more time and attention

The study gave six recommendations for retaining teachers:

  1. School administrators should continuously assess teaching conditions.
  2. Education funding should be increased to at least adequate levels.
  3. The state should introduce administrative policies that support teachers’ instructional needs.
  4. Principals should focus on “high-quality teaching and learning conditions.”
  5. The state should establish standards for teaching and learning conditions.
  6. Administrators should address specific challenges in retaining special education teachers. (Futernick, 2007)

The full report is available at

Clearly, something must be done to deal with the teacher dropout problem. The responsibility for having the best teachers rests with those in the field—what the military calls “on the job training.”

(Material Excerpted from “162 Keys to School Success” by Franklin Schargel)

Franklin P. Schargel is the President of The Schargel Consulting Group, an educational and training consulting organization interested in Building World Class Schools. He can be reached at [email protected].
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