The Wall Street Journal left a present under the tree for the education press when it published a Dec. 28 story with the headline “Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record.” The Journal cited U.S. Department of Labor figures revealing that public education employees quit at a rate of 0.83 percent per month in 2018, the highest rate since that statistic was first compiled in 2001. The rest of the story was devoted to why this might be so.
Media outlets from the left, right, and center picked up the story. All of them cited the Journal’s findings, but none of them bothered to go to the source data for additional context — which do not support that conclusion. Somehow, context doesn’t lend itself easily to alarmist tweets and subheads about teachers who “abandon the classroom in droves.”
To be fair, the Journal reporters included some context about the numbers, and they don’t write the headlines. But their story clearly repeats the erroneous narrative that public education is undergoing a retention crisis.
The government statistics cited in the story came from the department’s “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey” — referred to, fittingly, as JOLTS. It is released every month and details the number of hires, fires, resignations — quits, in department parlance — and retirements in every major category of the U.S. economy. What it does not have — and this is specifically noted in its frequently asked questions — is “turnover rates by occupation.”
Neither the U.S. Department of Labor nor the Wall Street Journal knows how many public school teachers are quitting.