Teachers Unions and Media Try to Make Hay of Teacher Shortage Myth

Larry Sand
President of the California Teachers Empowerment Network

For years, teachers unions have been moaning that nearly half of all new educators leave the profession within the first five years. They and others have repeated the claim so many times that it has taken on the mantle of truth. But like so much else the unions say, fact checking reveals something quite different. Veteran teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci has been doing his best to destroy the “revolving door of teachers” fairytale for years. And now we have a report released in April from the National Center of Education which finds that only 17 percent of new teachers had left the profession between 2008 and 2012. While this new data may put a crimp in the teachers unions’ argument, they are sure to keep complaining about that 17 percent, and cite as reasons: poor pay, a good economy, the Koch Brothers, a bad economy, ALEC, too much testing, too little respect, corporate ed reform, etc. But as Antonucci points out, teachers typically leave their jobs for pretty much the same reasons as everyone else – spouse relocating, giving birth, poor health, etc.

So with the “five and out” myth debunked, the education press needed a new juicy story to jump on, and unsurprisingly, The New York Times came to the rescue. Mokoto Rich’s “Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional)” sent all the usual suspects reaching for smelling salts. Her article can be summed up in the second paragraph,

Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.

Then three days later, Frank Bruni – also writing in The Times – doubled down with “Can We Interest You in Teaching?,” in which he also wildly overstates the problem. He refers to teachers as “pawns and punching bags,” which is faithful to the union meme of teachers as ultimate victims. And then in the fifth paragraph he solemnly informs us, “To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of the people who do go into teaching exit the profession within five years.” Oy.

Needless to say, the teachers unions happily jumped all over the new scare story. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (whom Bruni quoted in his piece saying, “The No. 1 thing is giving teachers a voice, a real voice.”) attributed the problem to low pay and “being left of out (sic) key decisions about education policy.” (Note to Bruni and Weingarten: if you really want to give teachers “a voice,” have real teachers – not union bosses – talk to writers about the issues.)

More or less taking the Weingarten tack, the National Education Association weighed in with “Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals.” In These Times, warns us that “‘The Teacher Shortage’ Is No Accident—It’s the Result of Corporate Education Reform Policies.” (The writer, Kevin Prosen, is a chapter leader in New York City’s teachers union.) But perhaps the most revealing attitude of all came from Indiana State Teachers Association president Teresa Meredith who opines, “There really is a climate that’s been created, and we have to look at the climate and figure out how to fix it. Who cares what the data says (sic) because when you have administrators who don’t have applicants before the first day of school, there’s a shortage, end of story.”

Meredith is right. Who needs or wants pesky data when you are trying to make an emotional plea? But for the rest of us who care about facts….

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