Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor

Punitive Culture, Not Money, Fueling Teacher Attrition

January 22, 2014 2 min read

To the Editor:

When it comes to doing what’s right in education, the policies of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seem to be off the mark.

While we applaud Mr. Duncan for stressing the importance of analytical thinking and attempting to have schools address the skill to think scientifically, we are critical of his support of a policy that uses children’s test results as a way to demonstrate social equality—one that lacks empirical support. The policy ignores the fact that genuine social inequities emanate from the deleterious effects of poverty. Time and again, it has been shown that, as the poverty gap widens, so too does the decline in standardized test scores for the poor.

Mr. Duncan and his administration are calling for an increase in the number of new teachers to replace those who leave early in their careers. They seem to believe that higher salaries will entice new professionals into teaching.

This proposed policy avoids the core factor for teacher attrition. Salary is unmistakably not the main reason teachers leave since most, admirably so, commit to the profession to make a positive difference in children’s lives. Rather, we would argue that teacher burnout and eventual attrition are due to the punitive audit culture instituted by federal and state agencies that seem to have a perverse obsession with teacher accountability.

Accountability is indeed critical for the success of any system. However, accountability methodology has to be rational and scientific. Just as doctors are not rightfully accountable for patients not taking a prescribed medication, scapegoating teachers for poor student performance is devoid of any wisdom. A teacher can be as good as one can be, but if the student does not study and perform on the tests, that teacher should not be held responsible.

The implementation of punitive assessment measures cannot eliminate the disparity between the potential benefits that prosperity offers students and the lack of opportunity provided by deprivation.

Clearly, Mr. Duncan and his administration need to separate the issues of student learning and teacher effectiveness and develop independent policies for both of these domains.

Stephen J. Farenga

Professor of Science Education

Queens College

City University of New York

Flushing, N.Y.

Daniel Ness

Professor of Human Development and Learning and Earth and Marine Sciences

Dowling College

Oakdale, N.Y.

Vishal Shah

Associate Professor of Biology

Dowling College

Oakdale, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 2014 edition of Education Week as Punitive Culture, Not Money, Fueling Teacher Attrition


School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Education Funding Webinar
From Crisis to Opportunity: How Districts Rebuild to Improve Student Well-Being
K-12 leaders discuss the impact of federal funding, prioritizing holistic student support, and how technology can help.
Content provided by Salesforce.org
Classroom Technology Online Summit Technology & the Pandemic: What’s Next for Schools?
When it comes to the use of technology, what’s next for schools?  Join the discussion to tackle issues surrounding this important question.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession 4 Ways Districts Are Giving Teachers More Flexibility in Their Jobs
After a year-plus of pandemic schooling, some experts are seeing momentum for district leaders to reimagine what teaching can look like.
11 min read
Teacher working at home in front of camera.
Teaching Profession Why Teachers Leave—or Don't: A Look at the Numbers
New EdWeek survey results reveal why teachers consider leaving the profession, and how the pandemic has changed their decisionmaking.
6 min read
v40 32 Teacher Retention INTRO DATA
Stephanie Shafer for Education Week<br/>
Teaching Profession We Asked Teachers How They Want to Be Appreciated. Here's What They Said
All they need is respect, independence, a break, and a heartfelt word of thanks after a difficult year.
3 min read
Image shows a teacher in a classroom.
Teaching Profession New Teaching Jobs May Emerge With Continued Demand for Virtual Learning
As school districts plan for online learning to continue beyond the pandemic, they'll need teachers to staff those virtual classrooms.
4 min read