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How the teacher shortage could turn into a crisis

In her latest column appearing in the New York Times, AFT President Randi Weingarten writes about the looming teacher shortage our public schools face and how we can address the challenge before it turns into a crisis.

"Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has declined sharply in recent years, And we lose an alarming number of teachers once they enter the profession—between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years," she writes. "Add to that the loss of mid- and late-career teachers, who have honed their skills but can't see staying until retirement, and you've got a brain-drain unseen in any other profession."

Weingarten at a San Francisco middle schoolAt the same time, teachers have been under attack for years—as is their latitude to do their jobs—through legislation, education policy and the courts. Despite the rhetoric, however, teachers are the first to say that, if someone can't teach after they've been prepared and supported, they shouldn't be in our profession, Weingarten writes. "Tenure ensures teachers have a voice and a fair disciplinary process—not a job for life. It should never be a cloak for incompetence or an excuse for managers not to manage."

We got some good news on this front last week when a California appeals court unanimously overturned Vergara v. California. The court said that tenure as a concept does not adversely affect children's education. And while the court recognized the many factors, including poverty, that have an impact on student learning, it also concluded that administrators have to manage fairly and effectively.

So what's the answer to solving the teacher shortage? Weingarten suggests that we look to high-achieving countries for lessons about how they educate their students and how they treat their educators. "They place a heavy emphasis on teacher preparation, mentoring and collaboration," she notes. "Their teachers have voice and agency to meet children's needs. Simply put, these countries don't out-test us, but they do out-prepare, out-invest, out-respect and, as a result, outperform the United States."

"Teachers should have the time, tools and trust they need to be most effective," she adds. "They deserve to work in respectful, supportive environments. And teacher compensation should reflect the importance of their work."

Read the full column.

[Photo by Russ Curtis]