School districts around the country are experiencing a mass exodus of teachers and principals. As reported in this NPR story, this year, nearly 20 percent of Milwaukee’s public schools have hired new principals.
In my own home state of Missouri, St. Louis Public School District lost 50 teachers, many of whom resigned after the first day of class. And the situation appears to be getting worse each year. According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch Education Reporter, Elisa Crouch, the number of those fleeing this troubled system is about 30 percent higher than in previous years.
This phenomenon is taking place across the country with school leaders and classroom teachers departing for better work environments. Just as in the business world, when organizational leaders, and the policies they create, fail to provide a successful work environment, employees depart for greener pastures.
In fact, some of these educators are looking toward teaching in charter schools, higher performing/better paying public schools within the district or neighboring districts, private schools and in some cases, jumping ship entirely to teach in other countries.
And just what are our schools doing to recruit top-notch teachers to replace the exodus?
“There are a lot of people coming to the district who can’t cut it,” said Mary Armstrong, president of St. Louis American Federation of Teachers Local 420 in a recent interview. “People aren’t breaking down the door to come to St. Louis Public Schools to work.”
One has to ask: Isn’t there a better way to run a district? Isn’t it time that school leaders be given the opportunity to create an environment that allows them to recruit teachers who are best suited for their student population?
In a recent survey of Missouri school superintendents, conducted by the Missouri-based free-market think tank, the Show-Me-Institute, more than 90 percent of superintendents surveyed favor teacher tenure reform. More than 70 percent say that it is very difficult and costly to get rid of bad teachers. In fact, Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation for Teachers, has publicly stated that the time has come for tenure reform.
According to a report in Education Week, in the 2011 legislative session, 18 states passed legislation that changed teacher tenure, and in many cases the language of the new laws varies significantly. From Alabama to Wyoming, some states are realizing that teacher quality is the most important factor in student performance.
In Missouri, most superintendents agree that they would be in favor of reforms that protect high performing teachers from personal vendettas by elected school board members but they also want reforms that will help them fire underperforming teachers.
The tide is turning on the issue of K-12 tenure reform and it may just be the most critical factor in our schools’ ability to hold onto great teachers.