Citing low pay, widespread disrespect and potential opportunities in other fields, frustrated public-school teachers walked away from their classrooms in record numbers during 2018, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report based on U.S. Department of Labor figures.
Public education employees, including person in jobs as varied as community-college faculty, school psychologists and janitors, quitting their jobs at the fastest rate since such figures were first compiled in 2001. In the first 10 months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 a month, the newspaper said, citing the Labor Department. Although the overall rate for U.S. workers was much higher — 231 jobs quit per 10,000 workers in 2018 — the figure for teachers and other public education employees was a record high and the continuation of a disturbing trend.
For years, teachers have complained that they’re overworked and under appreciated as states have stripped away work protections, cut school budgets and blamed them for student underperformance.
What’s more, as the private-sector labor market rebounded from the recession, teachers and other school workers have yet to get back to where they were more than a decade ago. “Funding for public education in several states hasn’t yet recovered from cuts during the downturn,” the Journal reported.
Encouraged by a tight labor market and low unemployment, teachers told the newspaper they expect to find more lucrative and respected jobs outside the classroom, a mass decision that is remarkable in an industry that typically hasn’t experienced such turnover turmoil.
A May 2018 study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that many states are providing much less school funding than they were a decade ago. That effectively shifts the burden of paying public education workers onto local governments and results in wide swings in educational equity and outcomes, according to the center’s analysis, which is based on data from the Census Bureau.
“While combined state and local funding in 2016 was nearly back to pre-recession levels nationally, state funding was down $166 per student while local funding was up $161,” the center reported.
“The shift from state to local funding raises equity concerns. Local funding relies heavily on local property taxes. Because school districts in neighborhoods with high property values find it much easier to raise adequate revenue than districts where property values are low, a shift toward more local funding can exacerbate school funding inequities.”
As a result, more and more teachers say they’re angry, and are willing to look elsewhere for their livelihood.
It has been a slow build to the recent exodus, with a trickle of departures now becoming a torrent. “It’s a lack of respect,” says Gloria Rubin, of Fairfax County, Virginia, who has taught and counseled students for more than three decades, said a 2011 interview with Fortune magazine.
“Our culture doesn’t value teaching. People think we have it easy, with short hours and the summers off. But everyone wants their child to have the best teacher.”
Since 2015, states have reported difficulty hiring qualified teachers to enter classroom positions, prompting many states to fill vacancies with temporary teachers who have little to no training, the newspapers said, pointing to studies by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonpartisan education-policy research group.
According to the Labor Department data, a million public school workers quit during the 12-month period ended in October. Overall, more than 10 million Americans are employed in the public education sector of the nation’s economy.
In at least 12 states, public education budgets are down at least 7 percent from 2009 levels, adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis of census data by the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Teacher pay across the country, adjusted for inflation, is now 5 percent lower than it was in 2009, according to data from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.
To vent their pent-up frustrations, teachers took to the streets in 2108 to protest low pay and meager state and federal investments in their students and classrooms. The strikes earned raises for some teachers in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma, but more importantly they raised an alarm over worn textbooks, poorly equipped classrooms and teacher working second jobs to make ends meet.
Alice Cain, executive Vice President of Teach Plus, a school policy group, said the protests brought attention to the plight of teacher and public educators but also pushed more educators to quit their jobs.
“Part of it was compensation,” Cain told the Wall Street Journal about the teacher protests. “But part of this was that their students weren’t valued, and that the public education system in our country isn’t a priority in so many places.”