Idaho's complicated and alarming teacher exodus

Let’s first process the numbers, before we commence with the inevitable spin.

In 2011-12, 1,884 Idaho teachers left the profession. Idaho had 17,851 certified teachers in 2011-12. In other words, this is more than a 10 percent turnover.

That should be a wakeup call. We should all at least be able to agree that recruiting — and retaining — quality teachers is the key to a quality education. Losing more than a tenth of the teaching work force isn’t how you get it done.

But in the bitter debate over the future of public education, the teacher turnover numbers have, predictably, become a choice talking point.

The Idaho Education Association blames the growing exodus on state schools superintendent Tom Luna and his Students Come First K-12 overhaul. Luna’s office blames much of the turnover on the recession.

The reasons matter, of course. And guess what? It’s complicated.

The state Education Department says more than half of the departures fall under the broad heading of “personal reasons” — which includes eveything from retirement and maternity leave to taking a job in school administration or the private sector.

Is this partly a matter of demographics — an aging work force? No question about that. Could discontent with the Students Come First laws drive teachers to retire or take a private sector job? Sure. But when Idaho has been suffering through a downturn, as Luna reasonably notes, could large numbers of teachers really flee the classrooms for new jobs? That doesn’t wash.

Now, here’s another interesting number from the Education Department: Only 51 teachers left Idaho for a teaching job in another state. (The annual average, for the four preceding years, is 140.5.) These low numbers would seem to disprove the suggestion that Idaho is a training ground that loses good teachers to neighboring states that offer better salaries.

But here’s an unsettling fact. In 2011-12, 143 teachers were layoff victims — a five-year high, and the average the four preceding years was 57.8. The layoff numbers are modest as well, but they are heading in the wrong direction.

This trend can’t be surprising. Not when Idaho’s K-12 budget still languishes below pre-recession numbers, when school districts have depleted one-time federal stimulus dollars, and when many districts have been forced to seek voter-approved property tax levies to plug the gaps. Some districts have been able to keep their staffs whole. Others haven’t.

And how many teachers based their “personal” moves on local funding woes? How many experienced teachers looked at the numbers and decided to retire early? How many star instructors got fed up and opted to take their talents to the private sector? We’ll never know.

This we do know. Over the past two years, 3,160 teachers left the classroom, an annual average of 1,580. In the three preceding years, the annual average was 766.7. Some of this is inevitable, and a reflection of an aging work force, but this is a troubling trend.

The Students Come First elections — and the debate over teacher merit pay — bring the teacher turnover issue into focus. But if we don’t also pay attention to fundamental issues of school funding, we’re sleeping through the wakeup call.

Teaching is a tough job.

I'm sure the reasons are many but what I know from being married to a teacher and therefore having many friends in the school system is that burnout is a large factor. What causes that burnout? Poor administrators, increased work loads with reduced pay scales, parents that don't care, students that don't want to be in school, the general public that looks down on the profession (i.e. people that can, do, people that can't, teach), the list goes on. Reform is needed but more than just computers in the class. How about a cultural reform where the profession and the professionals are looked at and treated as an important part of our lives instead of as lazy, unionized workers that only care about tenure. If you think that, you don't know many teachers.

Alarming teacher exodus

Before we get too alarmed remember one year doesn't make a trend line. The author shows that fewer teachers left in 2011-2012 for jobs in other regions than pervious four years. Same year more teachers than previous four were laid off. My first question on this situation is where were these layoffs within the state? More rural areas have experienced population loss to the urban regions. So if layoffs occurred primarily in areas of the state where changing demographics require fewer teachers the layoffs would not be as alarming as it would be if the layoffs occur in Nampa, Meridian where demand for teachers is rising.
Aggregate numbers can be misleading.

Partisan Hackery

This is more of the same partisan hackery and scare tactics that are becoming the norm for the 'No' side of this debate. It's not just about laptops - it's enabling teachers and students to use technology as part of their plan for learning. And the union (IEA) is not about teachers at all - they want to hold on to the power they currently have that has not been serving Idaho's kids for years. If they listen to teachers so much - what are their plans for reforming education in the state?

All is fair...

OK, you say "And the union (IEA) is not about teachers at all - they want to hold on to the power they currently have that has not been serving Idaho's kids for years." What facts can you show us that support that assertion?

We'll never know?!

Why won't we ever know? Collectively, we know exactly who has left, but apparently a form with a "personal reasons" checkbox is considered sufficient for an actual exit interview.

Seems like very basic, and essential work for the Department of Education, but apparently they're preoccupied with other things. I'm thinking turnover is fine with them; that way we can get cheaper teachers, too!

KR....More misleading stuff....

First, how does the 10-percent compare to other years in Idaho and to other states?....

143 layoffs is not bad....solyandra had more and the postal service has had quite a few....Micron has had its share....

Also, on the 10-percent how many were retirees and how many replaced those?

Also, what is wrong with a teacher leaving? Maybe they found a better job? Maybe they went to a private school in Idaho? Maybe they went to another state because their spouse found a job there....who knows....

A teacher does not have to teach forever....Some teach for 40 years, some less than 10 years....

I think you are looking at the data and making politics out of it when this data is probably common....

PS....have you endorsed anyone yet. I cannot tell by your blogs who you are for and whom against....a total mystery?

It's alarming

KR, you fail your readers again.

You write, "before we commence with the inevitable spin".

YOU have already put the spin in your headline.
YOU are the main and most prolific spinner here.


I would like to know the number of administrators laid off due to the budget cuts.

As long as we're

As long as we're speculating, why not contribute a percentage of these departures to laptop phobia? Out of 17,581 teachers, it is not hard to imagine 500 of them being technologically deficient and unwilling to face a classroom of students equipped with laptops. Though there are fewer and fewer such people in 2012, almost every profession has a few of them who have managed to escape the inevitable changes coming down the pike. Those changes are coming faster and faster, and employees who haven't kept pace with them can no longer fake it or hide.

Teachers love technology.

Every teacher in a public school in the state has had to obtain a technology proficiency certificate. What they don't like is the idea that a laptop can replace a teacher in the cla$$room, and larger cla$$es because of the shift in funds. The odd idea is that Luna believes students aren't using technology now on a daily basis. Think about this--if you have 30 students with laptops in a cla$$room, how much time will be spent (wasted) booting up, dealing with cpu problems, monitoring unacceptable use, etc. How many techs will the schools have to hire to keep the systems running? If the legislature really appropriates the money to buy them all, how much will they be willing to spend to keep them running year after year, and replacing the ones that fail? What they really believe is that in a classroom where each student has a computer, there won't be a need for a teacher at all, just an aide to monitor the students. This is already happening. I have observed this situation personally, and it is a train wreck. Just give each teacher 20 students, a smartboard, a good internet connection, and let them teach. It will save us all money in the long run.

Imagine what it would be like

if the technology were widely adopted, say by government, industry, small business and, gasp, individuals. Google "Luddite" and look in the mirror after you have read up on it.

Time wasted booting up?

Your post reminds me of a comment I saw on a Statesman article in which the person lamented that Luna is wasting taxpayer money on "unproven" technology. I don't know if you are a teacher or not, but your arguments are clearly not those of someone who loves technology. You are making mountains out of molehills.

If you go to the Department of Education website (federal)and type laptop instruction into its search engine, you can pull up over 200 articles, pro and con, on this subject which explain how school districts across the nation have been employing laptops in the classroom for the past 5-12 years. Some of those districts have as many students as the whole state of Idaho does. I don't recall reading a single article that claimed "teachers loved this technology but the maintenance problems made it unworkable." I do recall reading one article which talked about the initial skepticism, but after 2 years, neither teachers nor parents wanted to cancel the laptop program and return to conventional classroom instruction. They were sold on the technology and already planning to switch to digital texbooks.


Not just laptops.

Cell phones are now becoming a TOOL for eduction through application programs.

Download a math app for a specific class and everyone has their electronic clicker (clicker- the same thing being used in Idaho schools now).