Duty of care

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

I have been reading with great interest the conversations that have been sparked by Kurt Paccio’s post on Internet filtering. As my brain has swirled around the issues involved, it has returned to an experience I had earlier this year.

As some of you may know, I was the recipient this year of one of the cable industry’s Leaders in Learning awards. It was a phenomenal experience and I highly encourage you to nominate someone for next year’s awards (the due date is January 16, 2008). As part of that June trip back to my home town of Washington, DC, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. Tom Carroll, President of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), on teacher supply and demand. Here is a slide from his presentation (click on image for larger version):

NCTAF graph 01

As the graph shows, the number of ‘entrants’ into the teaching profession increased somewhat beginning in the mid-1990s but the number of ‘leavers’ rose even faster. My first reaction was that the numbers reflected the growing numbers of Baby Boomer teachers that are nearing retirement. But look at the next slide:

NCTAF graph 02

Although there has been the expected increase in the retirement numbers, the growth in the number of ‘non-retirement leavers’ has been much, much larger. As the first graph illustrates, the end result is that nearly twice as many teachers are leaving the profession than in the late 1980s.

Look more closely at the x axis of the second slide. Tom noted that these time spans roughly reflect the entry of Generation X and Generation Y into the education work force. As he talked with us, his basic message was that

Increasing numbers of young teachers are deciding that schools are not personally- or professionally-fulfilling workplaces and are taking their skills and talents elsewhere.

The way that schools operate is not working right now for many creative, talented young adults. They look around at how things work in schools, they might even give teaching a try because they want to make a difference in children’s lives, but then they become disenchanted and they leave. This has always happened, of course – the statistics on new teacher attrition have always been appalling – but new teacher departures are occurring at an ever-increasing rate, with the following impact on the average age of the teaching workforce:

NCTAF graph 03

As the third graph shows, the average age of our teaching force is getting older and older. These teachers can’t teach forever. Who is going to replace them?

It seems to me that the issues that underlie Kurt’s post and the new teacher attrition rate are intertwined. The comments surrounding Kurt’s post ultimately revolve around this question:

Post-It Note

Similarly, is it schools’ responsibility to provide viable and palatable working environments for new employees or is it not? Whether we’re talking about schools’ obligation to meet the future life needs of students or their need to retain new, talented educators, in both cases the issue is one of duty of care. What is our duty to care for students responsively and responsibly? What is our duty to care for new staff in ways that are embracing and empowering? What is our duty to care for young adults in ways that recognize their power and potential? What is our duty of care to our communities to adequately prepare the next generation?

Schools can’t continue to have more employees leave than enter. Schools can’t continue to ignore the fact that increasing numbers of students and families are rejecting traditional paradigms in favor of alternative learning structures (magnet schools, charter schools, home schooling, cyberschooling, etc.). If schools are to survive, they have to start addressing their underlying lack of engagement for both students and new staff. Otherwise they will be relegated to the dustbin of history as something more responsive takes their place.

11 Responses to “Duty of care”

  1. Scott, our deputy superintendent just finished his doctorate in education. His thesis had to do with teacher retention and attrition. One of the biggest deciding factors for people leaving the field of education wasn’t low pay, big class sizes, or even parent/student behaviors. Their main reason for leaving had much more to do with not being supported professionally during their first few years of employment. Instead of just letting good teachers flounder, steps are being taken in our district to develop PLC’s and good mentorship programs.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rick. We’ve known about good teacher induction for decades now. Yet, like for good staff development, we fail to see best practices in most school systems. This is what Richard Elmore means when he says that if educators were doctors, they’d be brought up on malpractice charges:


    I would probably add to your list teachers’ lack of opportunity to do meaningful work in creative, individually-validating ways. The nail that sticks up still gets hammered down pretty hard in schools (whether the nail is an innovative teacher or administrator). Sometimes it gets hammered down from above. Sometimes, as my former colleague Dr. Jen York-Barr used to say, the ‘crab bucket culture’ of education rears its ugly head:


  3. I’m in the “Gen X” category on the graph and I did, in fact, leave education after my first four years in the classroom. I spent two years in the private sector as a data quality consultant for a Big 5 accounting firm.

    The work was interesting, challenging, and rewarding, but I ultimately came back to education because I was tired of spending 3 weeks of every month travelling. Of course, it also helped that the position I came back to was a Technology Coordinator position at a magnet school for international business and technology – I taught two classes of Oracle database design and spent the rest of my time working on getting kids and teachers connected with technology.

    It was the principal there who strongly encouraged me to get my administrative credentials and I’m glad I did. If I can do my small part to keep young teachers motivated and involved in the school, then I’m setting up the system for my two kids when they get older.

    Another issue that may play into this is the way we as a system tend to cannibalize our young — we give them 3 preps of low-level classes, make them push a cart through crowded hallways as they travel from room to room, “ask” them to coach a sport and/or sponsor a class.

  4. “Trial by fire” That is what we do to young teachers and, from my experience, young administrators. We discuss mentoring and know how it helps those new to either position in the profession but we don’t do it enough. There are examples of success with mentoring but they are few and far between. For some reason there is still an attitude of “Well I survived and, if they’re teacher material, so will they.” which just doesn’t fit anymore. I recently took part in a conversation regarding a local contract where a veteran teacher commented that “I’ve done my extra-curricular so it doesn’t matter what they offer for compensation, it won’t help me. I expect to get more for me.” This is what young teachers are up against. No wonder they are leaving. Being an administrator, I have learned the ropes via the “trial by fire” method and, thankfully, stuck around to make it through but still am less than enthralled because we continue to allow those who are seeking new ways and new ideas, to languish on their own with little to no recognition while we support and promote those who follow the company line. One thing that I found interesting was the low level of teachers in the 40ish range. What’s going to happen when we no longer have enough teachers with experience who can move up and fill the senior positions when the time comes? Will we have more trial by fire? I’m not sure that’s the best way to run a system.

  5. I got my credential and interviewed at a school where new teachers were assigned at maximum two preps, two classrooms. 20-year veterans were teaching remedial Algebra across three classrooms, etc, etc.

    I didn’t sign on but I thought it was a great idea then and even now as someone who would’ve been assigned several preps and several rooms. I also think paying me more money is a great idea.

  6. I’ve been riding this horse for a long time – to no avail – but the numbers don’t support an alarmist view.

    The U.S. Department of Education statistics reveal we have been – and projections say we will continue – hiring teachers in numbers far greater than replacement levels.

    There is a certain level of built-in attrition in all professions, but teaching – statistically an overwhelming female profession – will have additional attrition as the veterans retire and are increasingly replaced by women in their childbearing years.

    The latest school staffing survey by USDOE revealed more teachers left the profession because of pregnancy, child-rearing, or family and personal reasons than retired, or left for money or working condition reasons.

    Finally, there’s no reason to believe attrition among Generation Y teachers is any greater than Generation Y attrition in any other profession. In fact, there is much evidence that local government (a category into which most teachers fall) may boast one of the most stable workforces in the country.

  7. Thanks for the comments, Mike. The graph shows that more folks are leaving than entering. It also shows a clear and steady uptick in the number of leavers starting in the mid-1990s. These data are in direct opposition to what you’re saying. So now we have to ask who’s right? The feds or NCTAF? I’m familiar with the SASS – would love to see some links from you to some alternative data / charts.

    I don’t know if GenY attrition is worse in education than other professions or not (although NCTAF does have some slides showing that the age distribution of teachers is markedly different from both the overall civilian labor force and registered nurses). I’m also not sure if it matters if GenY is also finding other professions to be unfulfilling. Bottom line is that, if the NCTAF data are correct, there’s a problem that needs fixing, particularly if current student enrollment projections (a bigger wave than the Baby Boomers) are correct.

    On a side note, I’ve been following your work for years (since the early 1990s). Thanks for continually bringing fresh perspectives to the issues surrounding teacher unions.

  8. Hey Scott:

    Thanks for the kind words. I don’t want to try to recap years of stats in this small space, but you can find the USDOE enrollment vs. hiring numbers (both historical and projections) at:


    The stability of the teacher force compared to other professions is based on another NCES staffing survey, which I reference at:

    http://www.eiaonline.com/archives/20040426.htm (see the end of Item #2)

    plus there’s the evidence of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, linked here:


    along with a lot of other stuff I’ve gathered.

    I would never suggest NCTAF is using bad numbers, but they may not be presenting all the facts. Check this out for an example:


    One last point: Aging teachers mirror an aging populace which means diminished growth in K-12 enrollment compared to recent years. The USDOE projections and current numbers nationwide bear that out.

  9. Thanks for the links, Mike. I’ll check ’em out.

    Everything I’ve been reading says that the total number of Generation Yers is close to that of the Baby Boomers. Maybe that’s what I was thinking of when I mentioned enrollment projections because I can’t recall offhand what numbers I’ve seen for the generation that’s starting school now…

  10. Here’s another post on the topic, courtesy of Joanne Jacobs:


  11. Yeah, I know Dave Saba, and I tried adding a comment over there, but have been unable to decipher his blog comment software.

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