[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

I have been reading with great interest the conversations that have been sparked by Kurt Paccio's post on Internet filtering. As my brain has swirled around the issues involved, it has returned to an experience I had earlier this year.

As some of you may know, I was the recipient this year of one of the cable industry's Leaders in Learning awards. It was a phenomenal experience and I highly encourage you to nominate someone for next year's awards (the due date is January 16, 2008). As part of that June trip back to my home town of Washington, DC, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a presentation by Dr. Tom Carroll, President of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), on teacher supply and demand. Here is a slide from his presentation (click on image for larger version):

NCTAF graph 01

As the graph shows, the number of 'entrants' into the teaching profession increased somewhat beginning in the mid-1990s but the number of 'leavers' rose even faster. My first reaction was that the numbers reflected the growing numbers of Baby Boomer teachers that are nearing retirement. But look at the next slide:

NCTAF graph 02

Although there has been the expected increase in the retirement numbers, the growth in the number of 'non-retirement leavers' has been much, much larger. As the first graph illustrates, the end result is that nearly twice as many teachers are leaving the profession than in the late 1980s.

Look more closely at the x axis of the second slide. Tom noted that these time spans roughly reflect the entry of Generation X and Generation Y into the education work force. As he talked with us, his basic message was that

Increasing numbers of young teachers are deciding that schools are not personally- or professionally-fulfilling workplaces and are taking their skills and talents elsewhere.

The way that schools operate is not working right now for many creative, talented young adults. They look around at how things work in schools, they might even give teaching a try because they want to make a difference in children's lives, but then they become disenchanted and they leave. This has always happened, of course – the statistics on new teacher attrition have always been appalling – but new teacher departures are occurring at an ever-increasing rate, with the following impact on the average age of the teaching workforce:

NCTAF graph 03

As the third graph shows, the average age of our teaching force is getting older and older. These teachers can't teach forever. Who is going to replace them?

It seems to me that the issues that underlie Kurt's post and the new teacher attrition rate are intertwined. The comments surrounding Kurt's post ultimately revolve around this question:

Post-It Note

Similarly, is it schools' responsibility to provide viable and palatable working environments for new employees or is it not? Whether we're talking about schools' obligation to meet the future life needs of students or their need to retain new, talented educators, in both cases the issue is one of duty of care. What is our duty to care for students responsively and responsibly? What is our duty to care for new staff in ways that are embracing and empowering? What is our duty to care for young adults in ways that recognize their power and potential? What is our duty of care to our communities to adequately prepare the next generation?

Schools can't continue to have more employees leave than enter. Schools can't continue to ignore the fact that increasing numbers of students and families are rejecting traditional paradigms in favor of alternative learning structures (magnet schools, charter schools, home schooling, cyberschooling, etc.). If schools are to survive, they have to start addressing their underlying lack of engagement for both students and new staff. Otherwise they will be relegated to the dustbin of history as something more responsive takes their place.