1.5.07

THE SOUND OF ATLAS SHRUGGING. Or perhaps, of "Take This Job and Shove It."

Classroom interruptions, student discipline, increasing demands, insufficient supplies, overcrowding, unnecessary meetings, lack of support — all play a role in burning out teachers.

"They're not just driving teachers crazy; they're driving teachers out of the classrooms," [Cal State-Sacramento researcher Ken] Futernick said.

The exodus is particularly pronounced in poorer districts, where there is more to alleviating poverty than throwing money at it.

The findings suggest that when teachers unions advocate primarily for salary, they have it somewhat wrong. On the other hand, Futernick said, administrators are clearly misguided when they focus single-mindedly on getting rid of "bad teachers."

That issue pales in importance to teacher retention. Moreover, at a struggling school, "one is hard-pressed to know the good teachers from the bad.

Such a place is not conducive to good teaching," he said.At high-minority and high-poverty schools, teacher turnover typically runs at 10% annually.

"If this churning is going on, you can be sure you have a dysfunctional school," Futernick said. "As long as we think of these schools as combat zones, we'll never solve the retention problem and we'll never close the achievement gap" between white and Asian students and their black and Latino peers.

Indeed, some researchers have cited the quality of teaching as perhaps the single most important factor that affects student achievement.

High-poverty schools have the additional hurdle of a more limited teaching applicant pool, and they are more likely to have teachers who work outside their field of training.

Apparently people are catching on that the hog doesn't fatten for market faster if you weigh it more often, although it gets annoyed.

That view has some resonance with academics. California, in its desire for accountability, has made education ever more bureaucratic, rule-oriented and regimented, said Stanford University education professor Susanna Loeb at a conference last week.

Special-education teachers are inundated with paperwork and other stresses that push them out of teaching or at least out of teaching the disabled.

"I told everybody I would teach as long as it was fun," said Barbara Millman, who left her teaching job at a school in San Pedro for the severely disabled at age 63. "They kept squeezing more kids into a class and trying to get by with less assistants. I felt the kids were not getting the kind of attention they needed and that we also were not valued as experts."

Poor compensation comes in sixth on a list of ten reasons California teachers gave for leaving the vocation. (Via Joanne Jacobs.)

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