The “nationwide teacher shortage” claim is a myth that has been perpetuated on and off for about a hundred years now. Of late, its inaccurate cousin the “teachers are leaving the profession in droves” fable has been giving it some serious competition however. And California, never a place to avoid a good fad, has hatched a plan to address the mythical problem. In an attempt to lure and keep teachers, there is talk of a “The Teachers Fair Pay” referendum which would align teachers’ pay to the wages of state lawmakers, about $104,000 a year.
I guess the fact that California teachers received largest average pay increase in the nation in 2016 didn’t do the trick. The average teacher in the Golden State now makes about $77,000 a year, second highest in the country and about $19,000 more than the national average. But when you throw in very generous pension and health care benefits, a teacher’s total compensation package in the Golden State is over $100,000 per annum.
A recent boost to the attrition myth was supplied by the Learning Policy Institute which informs us that the U. S. annual teacher attrition is about 8 percent and that this is a cause for alarm. To find out if this should be a national concern, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us all we need to know. In 2016, the “quit rate” for teachers was indeed 8.8 percent. But for people who work in manufacturing the rate was 14.6 percent, in real estate 18.5 and in retail trade it was over 35 percent. In fact, BLS reports that 25 percent of all workers left their jobs in 2016. So teachers quit their jobs only about one-third as much as all workers.
Also, LPI doesn’t mention — because it doesn’t know — the quality of those leaving the profession. How many are master teachers and how many are educators who really should be doing something else?
The Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci wrote about the issue in 2007. Using numbers from a 2004-2005 National Center for Educational Statistics report, he acknowledges that some teachers do leave the profession because of education-related issues. Sixteen percent cited being “dissatisfied with previous school or teaching assignment,” 14 percent claimed they left for “better salary or benefits,” 15 percent were “dissatisfied with teaching as a career,” and 5 percent left “to take courses to improve career opportunities outside the field of education.”
But the above reasons are eclipsed by the primary reasons that K-12 teachers leave their positions. In fact a quarter of the teachers didn’t leave the field. They just wanted to “pursue a position other than that of K-12 teacher” (which could include becoming a vice principal, principal, or other school administration job). Thirty-one percent retired, 19 percent left for “pregnancy or child rearing,” 20 percent cited “other family or personal reasons,” 11 percent cited “health” and another 11 percent changed residence.
(The questionnaire allowed respondents to choose more than one reason.)
In 2014, NCES released new data which showed that the two main reasons teachers leave the profession are retiring (38 percent), while 29 percent are still working for a school or school district, but not as a regular K–12 classroom teacher.
Needless to say, the teachers unions go to town every time this issue rears its head. In the current California Teachers Association magazine for teachers, the union jumps on the LPI report. CTA President Eric Heins claims, “Teachers would stay longer if they were treated as the professionals they are — treated with respect and given a voice.”
In 2013, the California Teachers Association claimed that there are reports of teachers “leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers” because of a lack of adequate support. At the time, the quit rate for teachers was 7 percent.
And this is a clue to what the fearmongering is really about: the agenda of the unions and others in education establishment. When a teacher union leader speaks about “treating teachers as professionals,” it really means that teachers should be paid more and be given even more enticing perks than they have now.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is famous for saying, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” And that’s just what LPI, CTA and other education establishmentarians are doing with their teacher turnover tales. And it makes no difference that the “crisis” is non-existent.
Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.
This article first appeared in the Orange County Register on Dec. 17, 2017.