What We Lose When Teachers Retire

In many of his speeches, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cites the projection that one million teachers will retire over the next decade. He uses this projection to support his policy objectives to transform the profession by reforming teacher evaluation systems, identifying effective and ineffective teachers, rewarding and removing teachers based on their effectiveness, and recruiting a new brand of teacher.

These are all common strategies leaders use to improve the labor force, but I wonder if these are the right strategies to emphasize when one third of the individuals in the profession are about to exit. I worry about the loss of what Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap call "deep smarts" within schools. In their book Deep Smarts, Leonard and Swap describe how experienced professionals carry a highly sophisticated mixture of explicit and tacit knowledge. This knowledge is developed over time when experiencing variants of common problems. Leonard and Swap describe how this specialized knowledge is often lost when experienced professionals leave an organization. They urge organizations to protect this essential knowledge that resides in the heads of their professionals.

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