The United States faces a serious educational crisis. Teachers are leaving the classroom almost as quickly as colleges and universities prepare them. Research indicates that while about 18 percent of students fail to graduate from high school, close to 50 percent of teachers leave within five years, including 17 percent of first-year teachers (as described in a Washington Post article and by the National Education Association and the National Center for Education Statistics). The Wall Street Journal reported at the end of 2018, using U.S. Department of Labor figures, that teachers are quitting their jobs at record rates, since such records began to be kept in 2001. In the first ten months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 on staff.

Why are teachers, and others in the field, leaving? What grade levels are most affected? What subjects are losing the most educators? Are certain geographic areas affected more than others? At what experiential levels are they leaving? In addition to educational disruption, what are the costs to school systems? What can be done to stop the hemorrhaging of these trained and certified educators? The overriding question is, who will teach the children?

Many of those trained to become teachers never enter the classroom. Blame it on the long hours, low salaries, increased school violence, lack of training on how to handle disruptive students, insufficient administrative support and the figurative microscope through which the media and publics examine educators and blames them when schools are deemed, “low performing”.

Teachers today are inadequately trained or prepared for the students, parents, and conditions they face. The problem has grown worse as schools and teachers are forced to deal with an increasing number of nontraditional students (minority, impoverished, foster, homeless, autistic) who come from nontraditional homes (single parent, divorce, second or third marriage) and learn in nontraditional ways (via the internet, tablets, social media).

In addition, schools of education are reporting a steep decrease in student enrollment. Large states have been particularly hard hit, raising concerns about the supply of new teachers. For example, as reported in Education Week, California lost 53 percent of its school of education enrollment between the 2008–2009 and 2012–2013 school years.

Nationwide, a conservative estimate of the cost of replacing public school teachers who have dropped out of the profession is $2.2 billion a year, according to Teacher Attrition, a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education. In the next decade, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association, American schools will need more than 2 million new teachers. Teachers are the most essential component in the learning process, and the large number of teachers retiring are taking with them their knowledge and expertise, exacerbating the situation by creating a gap in experience. It is not only the loss of warm bodies that should concern us, but also the difficulty of building an experienced base of teaching and learning techniques that the new, inexperienced, and weakly trained staff will need time to accumulate.

Some states already faced with the problem are issuing emergency licenses—thereby weakening, rather than strengthening, the teaching cadre of their schools. Some administrators have had to hire teachers with little or no classroom experience, causing classroom management problems, not only for those newly hired but also for nearby classrooms and teachers.

Far too many school districts face an uphill battle when it comes to recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers, especially those who serve students from low-income families. In fact, students in poor and minority schools are twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher and are 61 percent more likely to be assigned an uncertified teacher.


Consider the following:

  • According to a report by Linda Darling-Hammond for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “Every school day, nearly a thousand teachers leave the field of teaching. Another thousand teachers change schools, many in pursuit of better working conditions. And the figures do not include the teachers who retire.”
  • The same report states that the number is dramatically higher—roughly 50 percent—in hard-to-staff schools in inner cities and in minority neighborhoods where poverty rules.
  • Among teachers who transferred between schools, lack of planning time (65 percent), too heavy a workload (60 percent), problematic student behavior (53 percent), and a lack of influence over school policy (52 percent) were cited by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics as common sources of dissatisfaction.
  • From the same study: “The current teachers’ shortage represents arguably the most imminent threat to the nation’s schools. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that approximately 2.2 million teachers will be needed over the next decade—an average of more than 200,000 new teachers annually.”
  • According to author Lynn F. Howard, what is perceived to be a teaching shortage is really a retention problem. In fact, teachers are leaving the field faster than colleges are preparing new ones.
  • A report by Richard Ingersoll has observed that new teachers are particularly vulnerable because they are more likely than more experienced teachers to be assigned to low-performing schools in urban areas, where the dropout rates reach or exceed 50 percent. It is here that teachers need the most assistance, yet most new teachers are given little professional support or feedback, and few are provided with demonstrations of what it takes to help their students succeed.
  • In an annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, new teachers reported being greatly stressed by administrative duties, classroom management, and testing responsibilities as well as by their relationships (or lack thereof) with parents.
  • As described by authors Annette L. Breaux and Harry K. Wong, estimates of the proportion of new teachers in urban schools who will not finish even their first year as a teacher run as high as 9.3 to 17 percent. Between 40 and 50 percent will leave during the first seven years of their career, and more than two-thirds of those will do so in the first four years of teaching.
  • In a report for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, Thomas Carroll and Elizabeth Foster wrote that 53 percent of today’s teachers are baby boomers; in eighteen states, more than half of the teachers are already over age fifty; and in seventeen states, 45 percent of the teaching workforce is over age fifty.
  • One might assume that teachers in public schools are those leaving the field, whereas charter school teachers, who voluntarily decided to teach at nontraditional charter schools, would be more likely to stay in teaching. But a study published by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, at Teachers College, Columbia University, shows that for charter school teachers, the odds are 132 percent greater (compared with public school teachers) that a teacher will leave the profession rather than stay at the same school.

More than half of the nation’s teachers graduate from a school of education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 220,000 students, or 80 percent of incoming teachers, graduate from a teachers’ college every year. Noting then that America’s schools would need to hire up to 200,000 first-time teachers annually for the next five years, Duncan said that those new teachers needed the knowledge and skills to prepare students for success in the global economy. The secretary’s statements echoed the words of Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, who currently serves as president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. His report Educating School Teachers, released by the Education Schools Project, found that three of five alumni of education schools said their training had failed to prepare them to teach.

  • A study by the business school at the UCLA, Los Angeles, showed that the U.S. Air Force has come to recognize that the cost, in terms of training and experience, of losing a pilot for any reason is $1,439,754. While the financial cost of training a teacher is certainly not the same, the loss of a teacher is also significant in terms of investment in training and experience.
  • In the Detroit Free Press, Lori Higgins reported in 2017, “On any given day in the Detroit Public Schools Community District, about 100 classes are operating without a permanent teacher—the result of a dire teacher vacancy problem that is taxing schools, teachers, students and principals. As of April 27, the district had 263 teacher vacancies. Of that number, 161 were being filled by long-term substitute teachers, including several dozen that are part of a program that puts them on a quicker track toward full certification.” The bump in retirements could not happen at a worse time, as districts are faced with the need to recruit new people entering the field; while retaining those already in place; and refreshing those in classroom with the latest skills in technology and social media.
  • Our K–12 teaching force is aging rapidly. The proportion of these teachers who are fifty or older rose from one in four (24 percent) in 1996 to 42 percent in 2005. The percentage of teacher in their thirties dropped from 37 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2005. The proportion of teachers in their forties has also dropped from 44 percent in 1996 to 26 percent in 2005. As a result, there is no longer a large cadre of the most experienced mentors available to train the newest members of the profession. Forty percent of the current public-school teaching force expect not to be teaching five years from now.

According to recent statistics, 50 percent of the 3.5 million public and private teachers in the United States were eligible to retire, and 260,000 had decided to leave the profession entirely (with a similar number taking another position in the field). We graduate 106,000 new education majors every year—but of that group, 40 percent will not work in the field of education. That leaves about 63,600 new teachers to fill 260,000 openings.

  • The loss of talented teachers is also significant in rural schools, which, in addition, face the problem of lower teacher salaries and the difficulty of recruiting new teachers.
  • We are losing the best and brightest. A study by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory found that according to a majority of superintendents in the region, between 75 and 100 percent of the teachers who are leaving are “effective or “very effective” in the classroom. The authors, Debra Hare and James L. Heap, suggest that the most academically talented teachers leave in the greatest numbers. Education today is losing talent. Bright, capable young men and women are leaving teaching in sizable numbers, shifting their lives from the classrooms and the front offices into jobs that are less stressful, pay more, and are more appreciated. While the ebb and flow of young people into and out of the field of education is always a steady tide, the ongoing drain of experienced and bright young people after three, four, or five years is a concern.

Teaching can be a frustrating job. Unlike the idealized image of students sitting patiently with their hands folded, waiting for knowledge to be poured into their heads, many of today’s students come to class bringing with them enormous challenges. Children are expected to deal with divorce, drugs, violence, merged families, and parental neglect. They also show up in school with various abilities, capabilities, and needs. Many parents have made efforts to prepare their children for learning. But in other cases, parents have done little. They have not taken the time nor had the energy to train their children in some of the fundamentals such as reading, studying, learning the alphabet, and even how to spell their names. School administrators need to understand these challenges and create school cultures that allow teachers to reach every child. This means that teachers need to take chances that may not always succeed. In dealing with people, we do not expect every experiment to succeed. Doctors, like teachers, do not have 100 percent success. Teachers are becoming more frustrated than ever in dealing with the problems they face.

School administrators need to understand these challenges and create school cultures that allow teachers to reach every child. This means teachers need to take chances that may not always succeed. Clearly, something must be done to address the teacher dropout problem. Educators who prepare teachers cannot know where prospective teachers will work and cannot prepare them for every setting, location, or grade level. This time-consuming work must be done in the school. It is difficult to train fledgling teachers to provide relevant materials and instructional techniques to their students.

Teaching requires skills that are difficult to master. Teachers and administrators need training and support to meet the ever-changing challenges of the profession. This starts with the fact that schools of education are failing to adequately prepare teachers. As a result, the responsibility for ensuring well-prepared teachers rests with those in the field—through on-the-job training. When teachers graduate, they have a lot of book learning, but that does not make them competent to function as a quality educator. It is like reading every book there is to learn how to swim, taking a test on swimming, and then being thrown into the ocean. They do not know how to practice teaching—only how to think about educational problems and answer test questions. Putting unskilled educators into classrooms, allowing them to make mistakes because of inexperience, puts students at risk. And, in fact, we give the least experienced, least trained educators the most difficult students to teach.

Schools have become the nation’s emergency room. Schools inherit the problems that society does not know how to address or does not wish to: schools are expected to teach driving skills; how to say no to drugs, smoking, and sex; and how to avoid suicide. Educators have not been taught these skills; nor is there sufficient time in the day to teach these prevention skills.

As noted earlier, an Alliance for Excellent Education report states that teacher attrition costs the nation up to $2.2 billion a year. The national average teacher attrition rate is 16.5 percent. A report by Gary Barnes, Edward Crowe, and Benjamin Schaefer for the National Commission on Teachers and America’s Future covered a number of school communities, including Jemez Valley, New Mexico, where on average the loss of a teacher cost the school district $4,366; Chicago, where the average cost was $17,872; and Milwaukee, where it was $15,325 per teacher—not including the cost in the disruption of learning in the schools.

Due to retirements, deaths and people moving on it is difficult to stop the educational exodus. At best we can slow it down by doing three things:

  1. Aggressively recruiting new personnel,
  2. Retaining existing staff
  3. Refreshing current personnel in classrooms.


In Part 2 of this exclusive series, we’ll examine the role of leadership in slowing and even reversing this enormous challenge.


About the Author

Franklin P. Schargel is a former classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator who successfully designed, developed and helped implement a process that:  dramatically increased parental engagement, increased post-secondary school attendance and significantly lowered his Title 1 high school’s dropout rate.  The U.S. Department of Education, Business Week, Fortune Magazine, National Public Radio (NPR) the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and The New York Times have recognized his work. In addition, Schargel served as the Education Division Chair of the American Society for Quality and helped develop the National Quality Award, the Malcolm Baldridge Award for Education.

Schargel is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer and author of thirteen best-selling books. His last published book: “Creating Safe Schools: A Guide for School Leaders, Classroom Teachers, Counselors and Parents” has been published internationally by Francis and Taylor, LLC. In addition, he has written over 100 published articles dealing with school reform.

Material in this series has been extracted from “Who Will Teach the Children? Recruiting, Retaining & Refreshing Highly Effective Educators,” by Franklin P. Schargel © School Success Network Press, 2019