Three weeks ago, I visited a public elementary school in Boston and observed several classrooms. In one classroom, I had the opportunity to see an exceptional young teacher in action. When I asked about the teacher, the principal told me that he was leaving after this year – he had accepted another job in a private school as an administrator. “How long had he been teaching?” I asked. “This is his first year,” he replied.
The demands of policymakers and pundits for education reform and increased accountability have spurred a wave of new initiatives, including most recently “value-added” teacher assessments that link student performance to teacher evaluation, compensation, and tenure. While many serious questions remain about whether valid and reliable value-added assessments exist, the bigger issue with these assessments may be a talent exodus. The prospect of continuous assessment based on student performance that is subject to a wide range of both independent and dependent variables from student to student, classroom to classroom, and year to year is giving current and prospective talented teachers pause. More and more teachers are asking: Do I really want this job?
And as the example above illustrates it is not “ineffective teachers” asking this question. In fact, research on teacher attrition shows that highly competent and knowledgeable teachers are opting out of the profession within three to five years at high rates. Their decisions are not heavily motivated by money, but rather working conditions –e.g. lack of support from administrators, high stress/high stakes testing mandates, regimented curriculum and schedules, large class sizes, etc.
The large majority of teachers acknowledge the need for—and welcome—evaluations. They also understand that the use of student performance data is an important part of any evaluation process. But what is of great concern to teachers is that value-added assessments—implemented by administrators under tremendous pressure to show student learning outcomes, and too often not in the context of positive staff development—represent a new and extremely unappealing aspect of life as a teacher. Given the ongoing need for school improvement across the country, can we afford to have many talented teachers asking: Do I really want this job?
This article was written in response to an article called “Survey finds teachers don’t trust annual state skills tests” which is available here .
Jake Murray is the Senior Director of Aspire Institute. He has over 20 years of experience in the education, health and human services fields, serving as an organizational leader, policy analyst, and strategic planner.