|Education is increasingly conceptualised by governments and policymakers in western democracies in terms of productivity and human capital, emphasising elements of individualism and competition over concerns around democracy and equity. More and more, solutions to intransigent educational problems related to equity are seen in terms of quality and accountability. This article examines the role of ‘panic’ and ‘crisis’ in the creation of this shift from discourses of equity to discourses of ‘teacher quality’ in education. Taking a recent Australian ‘policy moment’ as a case study, it highlights one manifestation of the crisis of teacher quality as represented in politicians’ speeches, press releases and interviews, and media reports. It explores how educational panic is used as a tool by politicians and policy makers to manipulate and shape public opinion, such that ‘quality’ becomes a smoke screen that effectively obscures the issue of equity in education. It argues that in a context where neoliberal technologies of standards and accountability dominate, mediating teachers’ practice and shaping teacher habitus and identity, the more likely consequence of this smoke screen is in fact the undermining of both equity and quality in education. It concludes with a call to refocus the debate around issues of substance with more generative consequences for teachers and learners.