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Spring 2004
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The most vexing issue facing education today is not recruiting and training enough qualified teachers to fill the nation's classrooms. It is keeping them there

AFTER 14 YEARS AS AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER, Lynn Gallandt was physically and emotionally spent.

She adored her first graders at Moffett Elementary School in Lennox but felt that the expectations on teachers were too great, and she no longer believed that she could measure up. Though Gallandt desperately wanted to give her kids the individualized attention they needed, the constant pressure of maintaining discipline, being a surrogate parent, and meeting the challenges of mandated curriculum and standardized tests left little time for anything else.

"I just wanted to be in the classroom teaching," she says. "I just wanted to get in there and teach."

Each day brought some new disappointment, and it ate away at her self-confidence. As she drove home to Long Beach after work, she would think, "I'm not doing any good for anybody."

With three young children at home, the veteran teacher made the difficult choice in 2000 not to renew her contract for the coming fall. By quitting elementary education, Gallandt became another statistic of a crisis that is undermining the nation's educational system: the flood of talented, experienced teachers who are walking away from their careers.

The conventional wisdom holds that burgeoning enrollments, smaller class sizes and retirements have led to an acute shortage of teachers. But researchers have found that the real crisis is not one of supply but retention. Teachers are abandoning their classrooms at an alarming rate. Each year, more leave than enter the profession. In 2000-'01, the nation's schools lost in excess of 287,000 teachers — 55,000 more than had been hired the previous year, for a net loss of 24 percent, according to education researcher Richard M. Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania.

In the 2003 report "No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America's Children," the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future likened the problem to "pouring teachers into a bucket with a fist-sized hole in the bottom."

The dilemma is a critical one for the state, says California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "You don't just want to constantly keep recruiting teachers on the front end of the pipeline if you're losing them at the back end of the pipeline," he says.


2005 The Regents of the University of California