And yet, the nation’s schools are still striving to be closed environments, isolated from change and innovation that can only help U.S. students as they move into careers that are now more globally oriented.

During the first three to five years of employment, young teachers are leaving the education profession at an increasing rate. Many people think teacher retirement is to blame for the loss of teachers, but Carroll said non-retiring teachers leaving the profession outnumber retirees 3 to 1.

When non-retiring teachers leave the profession, Carroll said, they report feeling unprepared for the job; they say they are teaching alone, without much-needed support or help; and they explain they don’t see a career path or room to grow in the profession.

Teachers say if they go outside the education field, they will have continuous growth opportunities, work in teams, and have opportunities to collaborate, according to Carroll.


“Young people have too many choices, and too many opportunities, for us not to transform schools into the same 21st century learning organizations that young people can find anywhere else.”

And with more teachers than ever nearing retirement, young teacher recruits are desperately needed. Fifty-three percent of teachers are baby boomers. In 19 states, more than half of teachers are already older than 50. Depending on the state, average teacher retirement falls between ages 56-59, and early retirement often factors in.

Fifty-four percent of teachers in all of New England and 68 percent of teachers in West Virginia are older than 50.

“Half of our [teacher] workforce in the country is less than 10 years from retirement,” Carroll said.

If the teacher workforce is 3.2 million teachers, Carroll estimates that 1.7 million teachers are close to retirement, leading to a “retirement tsunami” in from 6-8 years, a tidal wave in which the teacher workforce in many communities simply will collapse.

“We’re going to have to move very rapidly to a different model for staffing our schools,” Carroll said.

Although the U.S. is “deeply wedded to the idea of standalone teaching, we’re recognizing that an individual teacher can no longer know and do everything that’s necessary to prepare students for the 21st century,” Carroll said.

And while there is a strong movement toward professional and collaborative learning teams within schools, NCTAF is saying that teachers need to have opportunities to benefit from outside sources as well.

“We’re at a point where we have no choice but to change–we’ve already been losing about one-third of our workforce, and in 19 states, we’re less than 8 years away from losing half of our veteran workforce,” Carroll said.

Carroll said he thinks a change in education could happen within 10 years, due to the dramatically changing teacher workforce, an open learning economy, and the high demand for 21st century skills.

“We’re now in an era in which employers need a 21st century workforce with skills such as collaboration, creativity, and problem solving, and schools need to develop those skills. The only way to do that is to rethink their education mission.”

NCTAF has 27 state partner coalitions and is working to identify a leading-edge group of states that are adopting this 21st century education strategy. Once identified, Carroll hopes NCTAF can mobilize enough leading-edge states so that their effective models will be able to be replicated by other states.

Carroll has held several top positions with education organizations, including serving as deputy director of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and as director of National Research Centers and Regional Laboratories at the National Institute of Education.

“We can remake the American education system–we have the people, the technologies, and we’re ready.”


National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future

eSN video interview with Tom Carroll

Tom Carroll’s NECC presentation

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