Teach Your Children Well (Or At Least Better Than David Crosby)

Last month America celebrated the life of David Crosby. Probably the most extreme surviving recording artist of the 1960s, the co-founder of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash was just as renowned for his behavior. His chemical dependencies were legion and increasingly dangerous – a journey through LSD, heroin, and a characteristic crack cocaine addiction in the 1980s. He also enjoyed concealed weapons, would often carry a loaded .45 onstage, and was arrested several times on gun charges. Once when confronted by a Chateau Marmont parking attendant about moving his car, Crosby pulled out a gun and shoved it into the guy’s stomach as a way of conveying he’d park wherever he pleased. Fellow Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman told him he was crazy, impossible to work with, and an egomaniac. In time, Crosby managed to alienate everyone, including his own liver. In his later years, he was embraced by Millennials and Gen Z who found his social media posts hilarious, demonstrating that for this demographic, even the most egregious behavior can be overcome by viral tweets. And he was mourned by Boomers, demonstrating that for this demographic, even the most egregious behavior can be overcome by a whole lot of nostalgia and some of the greatest harmonies ever recorded. In-betweeners kept mum for the sake of social harmony.

Crosby didn’t sing high harmony. That was Graham Nash. Crosby took the harder middle part. Another stunning CSN harmony was Teach Your Children where, joined by Y (Neil Young), Crosby advised parents to “teach your children well” regardless of the hellish difficulties in their own lives. Teach Your Children is classic Boomer “do as I say, not as I do.” Because Crosby didn’t teach his children well. He had four children (not including two born of sperm donations to Melissa Etheridge and her partner) but, sadly, only acted as a father to one. And when he did, as he had the insight to recognize in his 1988 autobiography Long Time Gone, his child would say something like this: “I love daddy, but he’s always in the bathroom.”

When it comes to teaching children, Crosby set a low bar. But in the midst of their own hellish difficulties, it’s one public schools may not be clearing. School Covid closures and – worse – inability to engage students through disruptive masks, spacing, and other public health policies set back student learning like never before; a year of math lost along with a generation’s worth of progress on reading and the ACT. Half of all students are now behind grade level and learning loss was most severe for underprivileged students. In response, school districts are offering optional tutoring or optional extra days – programs that are as ineffective ( 2% take rate) as they are expensive ( $611 per student per day); only one in ten districts is delivering mandatory, high-dosage tutoring. Los Angeles is taking a Hollywood movie approach to education in attempting to recruit 27,000 mentors: volunteers who’ll meet an at-risk student at school for an hour a week. Many districts are looking at solutions like MasteryPrep, which addresses learning loss through the lens of state-mandated end-of-course exams. All of which raises the question, what about teachers?

The other hellish difficulty is a teacher shortage that appears apocalyptic. According to local news reports, the following states can’t find enough teachers for classrooms: AL , AK , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DE , FL , GA , HI , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY . So pretty much every state. (Apparently local media recognize parents care a lot if their child doesn’t have a teacher.) Shortages are particularly acute for math, special education, and substitute teaching – which, as currently constituted, is gig work, not full-time employment, and therefore dreck. Sure, it’s a tight labor market, but the teacher shortage is as extreme as David Crosby. Much of it stems from a teacher exodus; last year, 51% of job vacancies were due to resignations, many due to pandemic stress. And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better; 30-60% say they plan to leave in the next three years – an exacerbated exodus as the culture war enters the classroom.

Is it any wonder responsible parents aren’t locking themselves in the bathroom, but rather voting with their feet? Enrollment in public schools has fallen by 1.2M. Enrollment is down in about 85% of the 100 largest districts. In New York, enrollment fell 11% from 2020 to 2022. With one of the highest rates of private school enrollment, Hawaii public school enrollment is down 7% and heading for the lowest point since 1962. And we haven’t yet seen the impact of: (i) Florida’s expanded education savings accounts (ESAs i.e., vouchers); (ii) Arizona’s new program which makes $7,000 vouchers available without restriction and has already surpassed 45,000 students; (iii) new universal programs in IA and UT; or (iv) AR, OK, SC, and VA where Republican governors have made vouchers a top priority. Most of the lost students have gone to private or charter schools or opted for home schooling, but not all: a new analysis by Stanford education professor Thomas Dee finds 230K students are simply missing.


What are we missing with regard to the teacher shortage? Salaries are important but not dispositive. In last week’s State of the Union, President Biden urged Congress to “give public school teachers a raise.” But according to the NEA, average public school teacher salary is $66,432 – well above the national median. While teacher pay hasn’t kept up with inflation, in almost every state tenure-based increases lead to $70-100K+ plus pensions plus built-in vacations. And as average compensation is always higher at public schools than charters and privates, taxpayers may already be paying a premium to the current market, short-sighted or unfair though it may be.

The primary problem is that, also according to the NEA, 23 states start new teachers at salaries under $40K – well below the median income – not only lower cost of living states like Montana and Mississippi, but the likes of North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Michigan. Low starting salaries make teaching less appealing and explain a new bill in Congress that would mandate and fund minimum teacher salaries of $60K. But low starting salaries are explained by the fact that teachers begin classroom careers at a tender age. School districts are able to get away with low starting salaries because most new teachers start between the ages of 20-25; in states like Iowa with the lowest starting salaries, it’s over 70% of new teachers. And this is because 80% enter the profession straight out of college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in education that includes student teaching and a teaching certificate.

Teacher licensing requirements coupled with low starting salaries largely limit America’s new teacher funnel to new graduates. Who are they? Not students from the most selective schools; no highly selective college has an undergraduate education school or program. As Brookings has pointed out, “education majors are disproportionately found at schools where students have lower SAT scores.” And some commentators believe education graduates at these schools tend to have lower grades – an observation that’s consistent with public universities restricting enrollment in higher value majors to students with higher GPAs, relegating the rest to majors like psychology and education.

American public education would be in a better place if we could build large scale pathways for experienced mid-career professionals to enter the profession. The problem: no matter the state, 35-year-olds with children can’t afford to take a job paying $38K. But unions adamantly oppose the idea of basing pay on anything other than tenure – fighting against “merit pay” has animated unions for decades – and therefore resist alternative certification programs that provide faster and cheaper pathways to careers in classrooms and more plausible routes to teaching for talented candidates (e.g., STEM subject matter experts). The result is a teachers college – teachers union death spiral.


Like David Crosby, Winston Churchill was dependent on a variety of substances: whiskey, claret, port, brandy, and champagne. It’s estimated Churchill downed 42,000 bottles of Pol Roger champagne. Also like Crosby, Churchill wasn’t a particularly good father. Despite his son Randolph’s heavy drinking, gambling, extravagant lifestyle, lack of work ethic, and general obnoxiousness – according to his sister Mary, “Randolph would pick an argument with a chair” – Churchill coddled and enabled with predictably disastrous effects.

As World War II came to a close, presumably in one of his more sober moments, Churchill is credited with having said “never let a good crisis go to waste.” That’s precisely the present prospect for public schools. As anyone who runs an organization knows, success or failure is driven by the caliber and motivation of people. Personnel is performance; personnel is policy. So while a half-dozen states like New York and New Jersey have endeavored to close the teacher gap by luring the same old teachers out of retirement – allowing them to double-dip (i.e., earn salary while continuing to collect pension) – the shortage could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink our approach to getting new teachers in classrooms.

Fortunately, we’ve seen more progress here in the last two years than we have in a generation. Here are 10 exciting innovations:

10. An interstate mobility teaching compact wherein 10 states (CO, GA, HI, IN, KS, MS, NE, OH, OK, WA) will recognize each other’s licensure.

9. Community colleges in Washington offering two-year teaching degrees with classroom placement in the second year.

8. High school principals recruiting alumni, including immediately upon graduation, for work as classroom aides and substitutes.

7. Tennessee considering dropping state test so candidates with non-teaching bachelor’s degrees can start teaching while simultaneously pursuing licensure. 10 other states have already relaxed testing requirements.

6. Utah districts launching their own alternative pathway programs for school employees (e.g., aides, paraprofessionals) to become licensed teachers. So far, over 50 districts and charters have had programs approved.

5. Detroit launching a similar program called On The Rise Academy, a model that a majority of Michigan’s regional superintendents might follow.

4. For districts that don’t want to set up these programs themselves, or districts without the resources to do so, Reach University is a fast-growing intermediary with a turnkey teacher certification program for aides and paraprofessionals. Licensure is earned through online courses, practicum-style courses, and workplace-based assignments like observing and reflecting on the techniques of experienced teachers. Reach already enrolls over 1,000 aspiring teachers across ~100 rural districts in Arkansas, Alabama, and Louisiana.

3. Oklahoma allowing adjunct teachers – new unlicensed teachers with qualifications in a profession, like science, engineering, or law – to teach full-time as long as courses are in their field of expertise. Texas has a similar program; 1 in 5 new teachers in Texas now bypass licensure. (If you’re of the view that licensure is the only way to safeguard quality, give some thought to the fact that while teachers of high school seniors have probably majored in education and gained licensure, instructors who teach these same students the following year at community college have probably done neither. Is the line really so bright?)

2. Districts setting up their own pathways for substitute teachers. Central Falls, RI launched a teaching fellowship that hires substitutes as full-time employees with built-in certification. Pathways for subs are sublime because they attract talented candidates from outside the current system.

1. For districts that don’t want to set up these programs themselves, Scoot Education is a substitute teacher staffing company with built-in teacher certification. Districts contract with Scoot – almost every district contracts with one or more substitute teacher staffing firms – to secure a pipeline of new teachers who’ve been working in district schools for 12-18 months. Best of all, Scoot can recruit better subs because these are full-time jobs with a built-in pathway to becoming a full-time classroom teacher.

The most exciting new pathways make it simple for prospective new teachers. If I’m working in a call center, accounting, or sales and want something more meaningful, I shouldn’t have to quit my job, enroll in a teacher certification program, pay tuition and – hardest of all – forego 12-18 months of income while taking a risk that I might not get a teaching job at transition’s end. (Although given the current shortage, I’ll probably get a job if I attain licensure and still have a pulse.) It’s less chancy and more attractive if I don’t have to bear these costs/risks and can simply take a new job in a district with a built-in pathway to becoming a full-time teacher in 12-18 months.

With these apprenticeship-like pathways, teaching becomes an option for millions of talented professionals interested in impact as well as income. Also perhaps for less altruistic reasons. In this era of social media, it’s crystal clear that tens of millions of American adults are hungry for a captive audience. Not many jobs come with a captive audience – not call centers, accounting, or sales – let alone a very impressionable one. But teaching does, and thanks to edtech, the audience isn’t limited to a single class. Teachers now routinely use technology to reach many more students via:

By launching new pathways and actively marketing teaching as a meaningful, tech-enabled profession, school districts can recruit dynamic teaching entrepreneurs who leverage technology to improve outcomes for not just 30 children, but hundreds. Let a thousand local Sal Khans bloom!


Surveys consistently demonstrate that while parents are despondent at the state of American K-12 education, they like their own school just fine. This is why attacks on schools fall flat. Children from well-resourced families are generally well-served by public schools. But for millions – particularly low-income and underprivileged families who, thanks to union contracts, attend schools staffed by the least experienced, least effective teachers – it’s often a case of not knowing what they don’t know. They could have had better teachers, but instead are Wasted On The Way.

Of course, I’m Helplessly Hoping that unions relax and districts are permitted to begin paying talented new teachers what they’re worth. Unions recognize that schools are facing “ an unprecedented staffing crisis.” And given the decline in union membership, they should recognize the status quo isn’t working; they can’t just Carry On.

If unions remain obstinate, a $60K salary floor is a viable (albeit expensive) way to cut this Gordian knot. Regardless, K-12 state and district leaders should move ahead expeditiously on new pathways and actively marketing teaching to audience-hungry, tech-savvy professionals – steps that could unlock the profession. But until districts do so with vigor and en masse, it’s just Déjà Vu. They’ll be like David Crosby: saying or singing one thing, doing another.