As the school year begins, we’re once again faced with all-too-familiar headlines about Nevada’s struggle to attract and retain quality educators and the general disarray of the state’s two largest school districts. Even a casual observer can tell there’s plenty of reasons for teacher morale to be depressingly low in today’s public education system — something that is directly contributing to the inability of school districts to attract and retain talented teachers. And it shows. According to a survey by EdChoice last year, most educators wouldn’t recommend the profession to anyone thinking about teaching for a living.
Despite the Nevada legislature’s pandering to the education establishment in the last session — not to mention the teacher raises passed by lawmakers — it’s a problem that is unlikely to go away anytime soon. The low morale is rooted in something far more profound than mere salary or retirement considerations. It’s systemic. After all, no one becomes a teacher because they crave the lavish lifestyle of a public educator. Such a career has never exactly been “lavish,” after all. They become a teacher because they want to teach and help change lives.
Unfortunately, however, too often teachers get “burned out” long before they’ve really had a chance to thrive at this noble pursuit. According to research, up to half of all teachers leave the profession in the first five years of their career. That’s a lot of potentially good teachers leaving a system that is in dire need of talent.
The reason for this low morale isn’t too hard to identify. Because government has a near monopoly over the education sector, teachers who run up against the bureaucratic mess that is modern public education are left with few alternative places to pursue their livelihood. As a result, they often flee the profession altogether.
In short, just like any monopoly, government-run education not only harms its consumers (students), but it significantly harms its own workforce as well. Such is the natural consequence of monopoly control, which is stringently policed against in other sectors of our economy.
Educational choice policies would go a long way in proliferating private-sector options for teachers who struggle to feel fulfilled in their local neighborhood school. It would give educators e alternatives to a school or district that is currently draining their love for the job. With more educational options — different types of schools, different learning environments and an increased market of nongovernment schools — employers would have to compete for teachers in a far more innovative way than they currently do.
That might mean higher pay in some cases, which seems to be the only “solution” ever offered by the public-school establishment, but it could just as easily mean far more than that. Indeed, studies have already shown that teachers lucky enough to find a home in the nation’s limited number of private schools tend to have higher job satisfaction, despite earning less money on average. Contrary to the political pandering that currently drives policy discussions about public education, private employers understand that not all things are about the bottom line on a paycheck.
Some educators might value work environments where they have more freedom to adapt curriculum in the classroom more than a mere increase in salary. Others might seek more collaboration among faculty, or a more responsive administration than they have at their current school. Whatever the issue, employers competing for talent naturally identify and address these concerns. Whereas elected officials in charge of managing public education are more concerned about the politically expedient “solutions” presented by special interests.
However, alternatives to public education are currently few and far between, leaving most teachers with little to no choice when it comes to where they can pursue their career. Government’s near monopoly control over the sector has resulted in a job market where teachers are increasingly deciding to leave the profession altogether, rather than suffer under a public-school employer that has failed to address their unique concerns about the workplace.
Educational choice isn’t merely a life-changing opportunity for parents and students who feel their local government school fails to address their unique needs. It is also a powerful tool to empower teachers with broader opportunities to pursue a working environment that rewards them as the unique professionals they are. Just like their students and parents, teachers too deserve greater educational choice.