The Cost of Taking Teachers for Granted

By Francesca Duffy — May 02, 2011 1 min read
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In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, the founders of the tutoring organization 826 National, highlight the need to recruit and retain a new generation of talented teachers, with 3.2 million K-12 teachers expected to retire in the next 10 years. This will be a challenge, Eggers and Calegari say, because urban districts currently experience an annual teacher turnover rate of 20 percent, and 46 percent of teachers nationwide quit before their fifth year. Teacher turnover ends up costing the nation $7.34 billion each year.

The authors point to a recent study conducted by the consulting firm McKinsey that compares the treatment of American teachers to those in Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, where students perform well on international exams, and where teacher turnover can be as low as 1 percent each year. Teachers earn more in these countries, and are also highly respected. In contrast, teachers in the U.S. are often blamed for poor student performance and in turn have their resources restricted, instead of being provided with better tools or training that could help them improve their students’ scores. Additionally, teachers struggle financially to make ends meet, which drives college students to seek higher-paying careers.

While some may say that to increase teachers’ salaries is easier said than done, the authors argue that it can very well be done:

For those who say, "How do we pay for this?"—well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.