There is an undeniable crisis in the teaching profession, one that reflects broader social inequities. Some of the "big picture" issues involve recruitment and retention of new teachers, equitable distribution of the most qualified teachers, and increasing the number of teachers of color. For example:
A million veteran teachers are nearing retirement, yet many school districts have difficulties recruiting and retaining teachers. According to the National Education Association, 20 percent of all new hires leave the classroom within three years. In urban districts, the numbers are worse; close to 50 percent of newcomers leave within their first five years.
Poor children are the most likely to be taught by the newest and least-qualified teachers. A 2003 study by the Texas State Board for Educator Certification, for instance, found that schools with a majority of black students had four times as many uncertified teachers in English and math than schools with few blacks.
While students of color make up about 40 percent of public school enrollment, only 16 percent of public school teachers are teachers of color. An estimated 38 percent of public schools did not have a single teacher of color in the 1999-2000 school year, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. Yes, white teachers can successfully teach students from other racial and ethnic groups. But if students rarely — if ever — see a teacher of color, or if teachers of color feel isolated and/or burdened by being "the only" in their schools, educational quality suffers.
The ability to solve these "big picture" issues is directly tied to how we define and foster quality teaching.