Why teachers quit: Working conditions

Half a million teachers switch schools or leave the profession every year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The churn is worst at high-poverty schools.

Improving working conditions will keep new teachers in the classroom, writes Ellen Moir, CEO of the New Teacher Center.

The most frequently cited reasons new teachers give about why they leave center on dissatisfaction with working conditions like issues with classroom management, opportunities for professional development, input into decision making and school leadership. . . . (Teachers) are looking for a work environment where they are supported to improve by the administration, feel valued and are able to contribute in a collaborative culture.

Beginning teachers leave because they “don’t think the people they work for care about them or their efforts to improve,” reports the Carnegie Foundation.

High-quality mentoring and induction is effective, writes Moir.

Movin’ and improvin’

Teacher-effectiveness data should be used to help teachers improve, not just to fire incompetents, argues Movin’ It and Improvin’ It! by Craig Jerald, an education policy consultant, on the the Center for American Progress site.

. . . districts are missing an opportunity to … help leverage their highest performers and help teachers with strong potential grow into solid contributors.

The  “movin’ it” strategy uses “selective recruitment, retention, and ‘deselection’ to attract and keep teachers with higher effectiveness while removing teachers with lower effectiveness.

In contrast, “improvin’ it” policies treat teachers’ effectiveness as a mutable trait that can be improved with time. When reformers talk about providing all teachers with useful feedback following classroom observations or using the results of evaluation to individualize professional development for teachers, they are referring to “improvin’ it” strategies. If enough teachers improved their effectiveness, then the accumulated gains would boost the average effectiveness in the workforce.

Smart districts will do both, Jerald argues.

Professional development rarely improves teaching effectiveness and student learning, research shows. “The nation’s school systems spend billions of dollars annually on wasteful and ineffective professional development,” Jerald writes. Yet some forms of training have shown “substantial improvements in teaching and learning” in the last two years.

More ‘reach’ for excellent teachers

One in four U.S. classrooms has an “excellent teacher,” asserts Public Impact. “Bold efforts to recruit more top teachers and remove the least effective teachers” won’t be enough to put an excellent teacher in every classroom. So let’s expand the reach of highly effective teachers by redesigning teaching roles and using technology. The education policy group plans to identify five sites to pilot expand-the-reach models.

OpportunityCulture describes possible models:

(The) teacher can work in person, teaching face to face in a school and/or leading other teachers. Or, when not enough excellent teachers are available in person, excellent teachers can work remotely, with on-site monitors’ help. Remote, excellent teachers can reach students via webcam, online whiteboard, email, and other methods that let the teacher communicate personally—live, but not in person—and at times convenient for all.

Willing, excellent teachers can have larger classes (within reason!), or they can specialize in the most crucial subjects and most difficult teaching roles, while other team members take on the rest. Or they can swap technology—online digital instruction—for some of their teaching time, enough time that the teacher can teach more students. Or they can lead other teachers, and co-teach with them, with authority to: select, assign roles, develop, and evaluate the team.

If we pursue reach extension, retaining high-performing teachers, recruiting talented new teachers and dismissing the least effective, “87 percent of classes could be taught by gap-closing, bar-raising teachers—in a mere half-decade,” Public Impact believes.

That seems very ambitious. Or perhaps I mean unrealistic.


Military schools woo high-risk students

Urban districts are opening military magnets to keep high-risk students in school, reports AP. 

The Marines are talking with at least six districts — including in suburban Atlanta, New Orleans and Las Vegas — about opening schools where every student wears a uniform, participates in Junior ROTC and takes military classes, said Bill McHenry, who runs the Junior ROTC program for the Marines.

AP estimates that 5 to 10 percent of graduating seniors from public military schools end up enlisting, compared to 3 percent of all recent high school graduates.

Some students crave the structure — and the male role models — that a military program provides. Chicago, where Education Secretary Arne Duncan was superintendent, has been very open to the idea.

After San Francisco voters endorsed keeping JROTC, the school board changed its decision to kill the program, but hasn’t restored PE credit, writes Debra Saunders. That’s squeezing college-bound students out of JROTC.  Will the board restore the credit?

The teachers we want

In Getting the teachers we want in Education Next, Rick Hess laments the U.S. tendency to hire ever more teachers, dipping deeper into the talent pool, rather than paying more to the best candidates.

If policymakers had maintained the same overall teacher-to-student ratio since the 1970s, we would need 1 million fewer teachers, training could be focused on a smaller and more able population, and average teacher pay would be close to $75,000 per year.

It’s time to rethink teaching, Hess writes. We can’t hire 200,000 smart 22-year-olds every year and expect them to teach for 30 or 40 years.

There are smarter, better ways to approach the challenge at hand: expand the hiring pool beyond recent college graduates; staff schools in ways that squeeze more value out of talented teachers; and use technology to make it easier for teachers to be highly effective.

Schools fail to take advantage of teachers’ talents, he writes. The fourth-grade teacher who’s great at teaching reading should spend her time teaching reading; a math specialist should focus on math.  An aide might handle administrative tasks. Only 68 percent of classroom time is spent on instruction, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The challenge, in short, is to find ways to “squeeze more juice from the orange” by using support staff, instructional specialization, and technology to ensure that effective educators are devoting more of their time to educating students.

Specialization has worked in other professions, Hess argues. Surgeons don’t spend time negotiating with insurance companies; “not even junior attorneys are expected to file their own paperwork, compile their billing reports, or type letters to clients.”

Technology can reduce teachers’ administrative load and bring tutors and teachers to students in places where it’s hard to attract talent.

All this will require a new way of paying teachers, Hess writes.

Don’t expect to hire superstar teachers, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

. . . every time we find ourselves slipping into a “best and brightest” reverie, we should pinch ourselves. It’s folly to suppose that any occupation numbering more than four million people–and consuming one tenth of the educated workforce–is going to be staffed predominantly by superstars. Nor is it going to command superstar pay.

With “mere mortals” dominating the teaching force, “that calls for greater attention to structured curricula (including the scripted kind), to technology, to proven school designs, and to organizing the K-12 delivery system in ways that get the greatest possible bang from its relative handful of superstars.”

Recruitment incentives attract smart people to tough schools, according to a new paper on California’s $20,000 Governor’s Teaching Fellowship. The goal was to “get academically talented grads to teach in the state’s neediest schools and keep them there for four years,”  reports NCTQ’s bulletin. Quitters had to repay the state $5,000 for each unfulfilled year.