Jack Schneider, a historian of education at the College of Holy Cross, deconstructs the claim that the biggest problem in education today is the quality of teachers. The clarion s of the Status Quo never tire of telling us that “great” teachers can turn every student into college-bound scholars. For a time, they said that the teacher was the most important influence on student test scores. Then, as social scientists reminded them, again and again, that the family has far greater influence than the teacher, the Status Quo shifted gears and began saying that teachers were the most important factor inside schools, which is true. Economists say that the family accounts for about 60% of academic outcomes, the teacher about 10-15%. The Status Quo doesn’t like to put those numbers out because it might persuade the public that our society should do more to improve the lives of families, communities, and children. Bit it is so much simpler to complain about teachers. They are an enticing target.

Schneider says, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the Status Quo, that we have a good corps of teachers:

“If assertions about the poor academic preparation of American teachers were accurate, the policy fix would be easy. But such hysteria is generally unfounded. Teachers go to legitimate schools, they get decent grades, and the overwhelming majority of them possess degrees in the subject they teach. More than half possess graduate degrees. Consequently, there’s very little low-hanging fruit to pick.”

Actually, the biggest problem we face is not how to attract Ivy League graduates into teaching (there being no evidence that Ivy League graduates make better teachers than graduates of state universities), but how to stop the relentless attacks on teachers that are driving out so many good veterans. It has been documented many times that a sizable proportion of those who enter teaching–40% or more– will leave within five years because the working conditions are so poor and stresses of the job are so hard. No other profession has this exodus of trained personnel. Far fewer people are entering the profession now than in the recent past, no doubt because of the attacks on teachers that have become commonplace in the media. Teach for America advertises its success as if to prove that five weeks of training is sufficient and that teaching is a stop-gap enroute to one’s real profession, not a career choice.

The biggest problem in teaching today is that the profession has been demeaned for years, especially in the past five years. The Status Quo crowd seems determined to prove that first-year and second-year teachers are best, and to drive away experienced educators, perhaps to save on salaries or pensions.

States and districts should have higher standards for entering teaching. Once people become teachers, districts and schools should give them the support they need to succeed. Incompetent teachers should be removed as quickly as possible, with a fair hearing if they have due process rights.

Schneider shows that teaching as a profession needs the same respect as other professions, the same professional opportunities for growth, the same time to work together and learn from research.