Our K-12 education system doesn’t attract and keep enough good teachers. Almost half the states now have more administrators and support personnel than teachers, and states like Utah have been scrambling all summer to fill major teacher shortages.
So why are teachers leaving? You might guess low pay — a new report last month shows that weekly wages of teachers are 17% lower than other professionals. But teachers say it’s not just about the money. As a recent article in The Atlantic shows, good teachers quit because of overwhelming bureaucracy. They don’t feel free to do what’s right.
Consider, it takes up to 66 steps just to suspend an unruly student in NYC. Talk about stupid. One disorderly student can destroy the learning of all the other students. When almost every decision — how to teach, how to arrange the classroom, how to keep student files, how to discipline students — is dictated by rules and procedures, it’s a miracle more teachers haven’t left.
This creates an entire culture of stupidity in schools: on the first day of this school year, administrators and teachers will assign seats in school buses and, in some schools, read a list of student rights and duties, such as “You may be expelled for homicide.” Meanwhile, in Finland, teachers start the school year building relationships with their students and creating a welcoming learning environment.
The only solution to a broken school environment is cutting back on bureaucracy and letting teachers do their job. The vast majority of American voters agree: a 2012 Common Good/Clarus poll found that over 80% believe schools would greatly improve if bureaucracy is cut down and teachers and principals are given more flexibility to do their jobs.
Students learn because good teachers inspire them. Smothering teacher autonomy and authority under dense bureaucracy is a formula for discouraging teachers, not inspiring them. Let’s put humans in charge again, and show students by example what it means to take responsibility!