American dropouts: Part 2

In part one, we talked about the dropout crisis among students.  Since I wrote that article, I was happy to read that the overall high school graduation rate is up slightly and that the number of schools where 60 percent or more of students fail to graduate is down significantly. You can read the details about that here.

In this post, I want to spend a little bit of time writing about the other dropout crisis in America’s public schools: the teacher dropout crisis.  Nearly one in three teachers leaves the profession in the first three years. Only half of teachers stay in the classroom after five years.  You can follow up on these these oft-sited numbers here (PDF).

Adding to this disturbing status quo are the findings from the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. The report finds that record numbers of teachers feel afraid for their jobs as politicians, pundits, and self-styled reformers continue to score political points by bashing teachers and their unions while passing more and more draconian laws to ensure that teachers get their students to score high on the tests, or else.

Reduced federal and state budgets, combined with the ravaged economy and a fast-shrinking middle class, ensure that more and more students with more and more needs pack into fewer and fewer classrooms with fewer and fewer resources.

After working a near 11-hour day, and looking at the news to see Republicans and Democrats attacking us and saying that if we can just fire the “lousy” teachers, all will be well, it’s easy to lose heart.  Knowing that the latest, greatest way the country is going to identify the “lousy” teachers is more likely to rank the best teachers as the worst teachers than to continue ranking them as good one year to the next, it’s hard not to feel like there is a target painted on my back no matter who hard I try or how well I succeed.

Then I read Fredrick Hess’s take on the same research I’ve just shared with you.  He drives me crazy as he oversimplifies the two sides of the school reform debate into those who want reforms versus those who want to keep teachers happy. It’s as if Mr. Hess thinks that teachers enter the profession because we resent kids and want a cushy job.

I just want to stomp my feet, I get so angry.  He just doesn’t get the “angst” of teachers like me who feel less satisfied by our jobs while simultaneously feeling like we are treated like professionals in our communities.  Allow me a moment to clear up Mr. Hess’s confusion.  The people in my community, who trust me with their children, make me feel like a professional every time we sit down together or talk on the phone about what is in the best interest of their children/my students.

At the same time, I feel extreme “angst” from elected officials, corporate and foundation reforms, and pundits like Mr. Hess who sit in comfortable chairs, look at some numbers on a spreadsheet, decide they know what’s going on in my classroom better than I do, tisk-tisk at me, and wonder if perhaps I shouldn’t be replaced.

I invite Mr. Hess, and the rest of the pundits and reformers, to get out from behind their comfortable desks, roll up their sleeves, and join me in a classroom here in Oakland, California.  I wonder what Mr. Hess’s value-added measurement will be. I wonder if he would be a top teacher one year and a “lousy” one the next.

Wow!  There is a lot of anger and vitriol in this post.  That is unlike me.  My partners and I at the Center for Teaching Quality pride ourselves of staying above the tussle and offering solutions rather than pointing out problems.  Fear not, dear reader.  Part three is coming soon.  In reality, this is one very long essay about dropouts and reforms.  In the next piece, I’ll detail several interesting ideas that warrant discussion and exploration.  See you again soon, on the sunny side of the street!