Benefits, Bad Stuff and The Future of Public Education

Many people are passionate about public education. But passion has two extremes: love and hate. Those who value public education are quick to describe teachers as over-worked and underpaid. Those who believe public school is a waste of tax dollars usually argue the opposite – teachers are overpaid and under-worked. 

But there is no need for such arguments. The facts about the teaching profession speak for themselves.

In any job, there are benefits – competitive salary, prestige, and personal fulfillment, for example. There are, likewise, less pleasant aspects – lower salary, long hours, and lowliness. How much unpleasantness a person will tolerate depends on the trade-off:  pay and prestige can make up for long hours. Conversely, personal fulfillment may compensate for lower salary.

This is the ratio of “benefits” to “bad stuff”; the B-to-BS ratio, if you will. A high B-to-BS ratio will attract and retain people in a career. A low B-to-BS ratio and the opposite occurs – few people enter the profession, and many who do are quick to leave.

A comprehensive study in 2009 by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE includes Harvard, Stanford, and five other institutions) examined demographic trends in the teaching profession, revealing the B-to-BS ratio in public school teaching.

The study found that as many as 30% to 40% of high schools have trouble filling vacant positions. Conventional wisdom had been that this teacher shortage was caused by too few new teachers completing degree/licensing programs to replace the graying teaching staff now reaching retirement age.

The CPRE study, however, found that the number of new graduates already equals or exceeds the number of retiring teachers, and has for some time. In any given year, the turnover rate of teachers is 15% – 25%, but retirement accounts for less than 15% of that turnover. 

Eighty-five percent of teachers leaving the profession are not retiring; they’re just
leaving for more attractive careers.

The top reasons cited for leaving the profession included low salary, heavy work load, lack of autonomy, and lack of support from parents and administrators – in short, too little benefit and too much bad stuff.

Our nation’s teacher shortage is not a shortage of qualified teachers. Rather, it is a shortage of qualified teachers who are willing to offer their services under current wages and working conditions. Simply put, teachers are over-worked and under-paid; and this low B-to-BS ratio is driving qualified, talented teachers away from the profession.

Modern education “reform” advocates love to evangelize about the importance of talented teachers, but they seldom promote policies which attract or retain such talent.  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote of “elevating the teaching profession”, but then presided over the largest de-professionalizing, demoralizing, sweeter-carrot-and-sharper-stick public education policy in U.S. history. 

This education agenda is beyond No Child Left Behind on steroids.  It has taken virtually every disproven strategy, every failed policy, and every autonomy-draining, de-professionalizing reform and stacked them on the “BS” side of the ratio.  Then, it tops the pile with a dollop of good old-fashioned teacher-bashing.

The future of our educational system and, ultimately, of our nation depends on us making fundamental changes to the teaching profession. Amplifying the failed blame and shame policies of No Child Left Behind isn’t the answer.  Neither are a national cookie-cutter curricula, pay-for-test-score contracts, or public defamation of dedicated teachers by the local paper. 

Instead, we must fundamentally change the B-to-BS ratio of public school teaching.  We must stop treating teachers like children and re-professionalize the profession; starting with professional salaries and professional autonomy. 

Otherwise, we will continue our revolving-door system of staffing our classrooms; and one day discover no one is waiting to enter.

Reminder: Monday, November 22, is the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform. Bloggers across the Internet will be posting and advancing debate on how we can all work together to improve education in America. Be sure to visit EdVoices on the National Day of Blogging for Education Reform, as we will be featuring the latest posts from education’s top bloggers.

Comments (12)

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Benefits, Bad Stuff and The Future of Public Education | Edvoices --

  2. Working conditions is a critical issue. More here:

    • Fact: A third of new teachers quit teaching after three years. One half of new teachers quit teaching after five years. Why? Is it because they have such cushy and well-paid jobs?

      Where are we going to get teachers–those with BS and Masters degrees and more– to teach our children when they are constantly abused and attacked, both in the classroom and from the general public? You better start seriously thinking about home-schooling your child or having her in classes of 60 or more. I cannot see teachers staying in the profession as their working conditions continue to deteriorate, especially with so many disruptive students who operate on a “social agenda” and not an “academic agenda.” Far too many parents don’t know how to parent or just don’t give a damn. Too many of them expect teachers to raise their kids.

      This issue about taking away the collective bargaining rights of teachers and other public employees in WI and in other states has caught the attention of many, including the few high school and college students who aspire to become a teacher. Many of them are starting to reconsider whether or not they want to be in the profession. God help us all. I see America disintegrating and I am scared to death about our survival as a country. The wrong people are being attacked. The rich and powerful must be gleeful that one worker is pitted against another.

  3. Low salary and over-work are only one part of the issue. Studies of well-provisioned schools with high teacher salaries (and no over-work) also show high discontent (despair actually) – at not being trusted, not having a minimal degree of autonomy or appreciation, in short not being treated as a human being!

  4. Great cartoon. It’s interesting to note that this study is from before a lot of the recent changes that have made teaching an even less attractive profession. As anyone in teaching knows, it’s only going to get worse.

  5. This piece evolved, with updates for current events, from a longer piece I’d written a while back. Check it out if you like this:

  6. Good Stuff. It is not just a reason for leaving. These are reasons we are less effective.

  7. The idea of the “national cookie-cutter curricula” is leading every state to follow the same guidelines and policies for education without the same resources and services. Consequently, the states with the exceedingly flow of resources and services may appear more exuberant in their level of performance. Our individual states may need to find ways to self-preserve for some individuality and remain a voice for unique conditions to ensure that teachers and all students are protected during these changes.

  8. First and foremost, we need to identify the goals and objectives for public education. Secondly, all the parties involved need to share the accountability. Until parents and students are also held accountable, we will never be able to achieve our maximum potential. Finally, we need our political leaders to quit just talking about the importance of education, but show by their actions its importance with appropriate long term funding for public education .

    • Cheri-I agree! Parents and students are a vital part of education! We cannot move forward without student and parent support. How many politicians have actually stood in front a classroom to lead a group of students from point A to point B? They cannot make sweeping changes without knowing what teachers deal with on a daily basis. We must stop blaming teachers and attack the real source of our educational woes. Let’s find a way to get parents involved and students to want an education! When that happens, we will see vast improvement in achievement.

  9. Teachers work longer than most people realize. A 2008 research study reported that full-time teachers work, on average, 55 hours per week. [1] (This includes all the after school and evening and weekend work in correcting papers at home, preparing tests, designing lesson plans, attending after school functions as well as parent meetings, etc.) If you multiply 55 hours x 38 weeks in a regular teacher’s contract, you get 2,090 hours of work. Divide the 2,090 by 40 hours per week (average workweek) and you have a typical teacher working 52.25 weeks per year! They do this in a compressed nine-months of time. It should also not be forgotten that when teachers “ . . . are compelled not to work during the three months of summer, they won’t be able to collect unemployment compensation.” [2] However, other “seasonal workers” have that right.

    [1] NEA Today (2008, September). Miscellaneous classroom concerns, 27(1), p. 28. [ED3-83]

    [2] Mattsen, John A. (2000, January 15). Big surpluses, but not enough to pay teachers decent salary. Star Tribune, p. A17. [FD3-84]

  10. I recently read “The Benefits-To-BS Ratio” article. I had been a reading specialist my entire teaching career (17 years). Eight of those years were spent in one particular district. In 2009, the district made huge shift in the approach and delivery of reading instruction to all Title I students (a new program was put into place, not even piloted). Unfortunately with this new program, the Title I staff (teachers and instructional assitants) witnessed on a daily basis students lack of progression compounded by their decreased interest in learning to read. Never, in all my years teaching had I seen such a plateau in reading levels, disinterest, and low enthusiasium from students. Witnessing and being a part of this was disheartening to say the least. Lack of support from administration in regard to the new implemented reading program was also an issue. After that school year, the year I dub my worst year teaching, I decided that I could no longer be a part of instructing at-risk students using a program that is not in the best interest of kids. I resigned from my teaching position, didn’t retire nor did I have a more attractive career lined up.

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