How to stop the teacher exodus 

Children on pavers playing and drawing with chalk toddler kids school
Kids playing with chalk (photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash)

It’s time to expose the myth of the teacher shortage. The conditions in today’s classrooms and the ridiculous education policies are responsible for a mass exodus—not shortage—of passionate professionals from their classrooms.

Since the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983, public schools and their teachers have been under assault from a political and financial elite connected to both Democrats and Republicans. Although A Nation at Risk was thoroughly debunked, the failing schools narrative have driven education policy in a simple minded direction—high stakes, test-based “accountability.”

Accountability—loved by Democrats and Republicans—has almost become a religious movement. In fact, the idea of even questioning the usefulness of test-based accountability can cause enraged panic in accountability zealots. “How will we know what children are falling behind?” “How will we close the achievement gap if we don’t measure it?” “How will we fire bad teachers without the data?” “How will we know what schools to close?” “What will happen to my lucrative consulting gig with test company X?”

Time for the hard truth. Test based accountability has done one thing well. Over the past 35 years, we have beyond any doubt, measured and confirmed the achievement gap. That’s it! Nothing else.

However, test-based accountability has destroyed the profession of teaching and caused a mass demoralization and exodus from public school classrooms. And let’s not forget about the thousands of hours of lost instruction time in the sciences, social studies, arts, music and anything else that doesn’t conform to basic literacy and numeracy skills.

It really is an insanity driven by the hatred of public schools and the greed of powerful individuals to use the false narrative of failing schools and bad teachers to drain schools of public tax dollars. Nothing done over the last 35 years in the name of accountability—Nothing! — has done anything positive for the children stuck at the bottom of the achievement gap. The problem was never failing schools and bad teachers. The problem has always been poverty born out of systemic racism. 

Who designed such a pernicious system? Not teachers. They’ve been too busy trying to shield their students from the harm being dictated by policy makers and think tanks. However, all of that shielding has taken a toll and the number of demoralized teachers leaving our classrooms cannot be labeled as a simple shortage. It is an exodus.

How do I know it’s an exodus? Because I have surveyed more than 650 teachers for a book that I am writing. Well over 90% of these teachers have responded that they are leaving teaching, thinking about leaving, telling potential new teachers to stay away, seeking mental health services, taking anxiety medications and losing their own families because of conditions in the classroom created by a reckless belief in test based accountability by those in charge of education policy.

The sad reality is that the solution is so simple. End the era of accountability, give schools adequate resources, and just let teachers do their jobs. Our future depends on it.


  1. Problem is, a lot of this is untrue. Testing has told us a lot. It tells us whether programs and reforms work (some do, quite spectacularly). It tells us about achievement gaps (plural, there are a lot more than one). It tells us part of the problem is how teachers are trained at colleges and that retraining them can make a very big difference. It tell us Bethlehem, PA did some remarkable things, so did Massachusetts, Florida, and others. It tells us Mississippi 4th graders now read a lot better than 4th graders in Wisconsin thanks to concerted reform efforts, and Arkansas 4th graders are passing us, too.

    Testing is sometimes used by people as a bludgeon, and that’s a shame. But it is also used by people like Mr. Slekar as a kind of boogeyman. The difference is, he should know better. That he doesn’t, tells me a lot.

  2. Massachusetts was already doing remarkable things before the high stakes testing widened the gap between poor and wealthy districts in the commonwealth. MA is ranked #1 but dig a bit deeper and you’ll see the darker story for urban students. Are you saying training new teachers for a career singularly focused on a state test score will make the difference? Urban teachers have all the same training and state licenses as their suburban counterparts. We must do better than present test data as proof of a great education.
    A teacher exodus is irrefutably tied to the relentless focus on test scores and labeling schools and the people inside them as underperforming.

  3. Testing has taken the place of learning. Students are being taught to take tests. Science, art, music, physical education, social studies, discussions: in other words, the elements of a holistic approach to learning have been scuttled in the interest of quantifiable, one-size-fits-all “assessments” that take time away from learning. Children are being denied the benefits of a rich, multi-faceted environment and forced to focus disproportionately on reading and math.


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