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Teacher Exodus Is No Surprise

Although Arizona is experiencing the most dramatic departure of teachers in the nation, I expect to see other states soon catching up ("Why teachers are fleeing Arizona in droves," The Washington Post, Jun. 19). I say that even after taking into account Arizona's place near the bottom on a list of spending on education by states as well as the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn in 2011 that upheld tax credits for parents who send their children to church schools.

The combination of excessive testing and intrusive instructional guidelines affects almost all states. College graduates have never chosen teaching to become rich.  What attracted them was the freedom to make the classroom their own.  Although there were always limitations on what they could teach, by and large they were left alone.  Today, however, the pressure to post impressive test scores has effectively undermined their autonomy.  

There are those who will argue that if salaries were significantly raised, these changes would stem the teacher exodus and encourage talented college graduates to make the classroom their career. Yes, higher salaries would likely serve as a magnet to certain districts.  For example, thousands of teachers in the New York suburbs have been making more than $100,000 annually since 2005. These districts have a far lower teacher turnover rate than, say, districts in Arizona.  But morale even in high paying districts is low because salaries alone are not the No. 1 factor in recruiting and retaining teachers.  

Eventually Americans are going to have to ask themselves if public schools are worthwhile saving. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris has paved the way for public funds to be diverted to private and religious schools as long as the public funds first go to parents. If enough parents decide to take advantage of this option, then the flight of teachers from public schools will only be accelerated.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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