10.6.07

RETHINKING TEACHER ATTRITION. On occasion, I have noted the relatively rapid exit of newly certified teachers from teaching. Those reports are incomplete. Teacher attrition is not as bad as I had believed.

The conclusions in the study - one of the largest ever to look at new teacher attrition in detail - will come as a surprise to many in the education field where conventional wisdom says 50 percent of new teachers leave the job within five years.

“This 50-percent-in-five-years number has become standard, and we've known that's only half the story,” said Jennifer B. Presley, the study's co-author and director of the Illinois Education Research Council, which conducted the study and is based at SIUE. “Teaching isn't this dreaded profession people flee.”

The researchers studied 35 years of data, from 1971 to 2006, and looked at movement and attrition patterns among 160,000 Illinois teachers during that time period. The goals was to test whether the Illinois data applied to the nationally accepted wisdom.The researchers say that it didn't. In fact, they report, one third of the teachers who left the profession returned - something existing research didn't track, they said. The study concludes that teaching is actually more stable than other professions requiring the same amount of education.

Although there are many reasons for teacher attrition, the possibility remains that more difficult districts require hazardous duty pay.

Of those who left teaching, a high percentage cited family obligations as the motivating reason.“It's not that everyone who leaves cites dissatisfaction with the profession,” said Karen DeAngelis, the study's lead author. “Of those who leave, a full third come back, and (this) is a good indication of that.”

The researchers believe that teachers return not because they don't have other options or have invested years in obtaining teaching credentials, but because they're committed to the classroom.

“People who are trained to become teachers are very dedicated to the profession,” said Presley. “It's not that they don't have choices.”

The study did not track whether the teachers left for private schools or took jobs out of state, so the authors say the percentage of those who return to teaching might be even higher.

The study also reported that attrition rates were similar regardless of whether schools were in urban, suburban or rural areas, or whether they were low or high-performing schools. Decisions to leave were made on a school-by-school basis.

“There are schools in every Illinois locale and every demographic category with high rates of attrition,” said DeAngelis.

Rather, the authors suspect that factors beyond student performance - for example, leadership, resources and school culture - affected decisions to leave.

They did say, however, that teachers with higher academic qualifications were more likely to leave the profession if they started their careers at an under-performing or disadvantaged school.

“The more highly qualified teachers have more teaching opportunities,” said Presley, “and to the extent they become frustrated, it's not the students' fault. There are many other factors.”

"Many other factors" is not the same thing as "no conclusion." On average, better teachers ought attract better offers. That "not the students' fault" disclaimer might reflect the mindset of the College of Education. Joanne Jacobs links an article in which a teacher consultant is taking some stick from the education "theorists" for teaching across class lines.
[Consultant Ruby] Payne believes that teachers can’t help their poor students unless they first understand them, and that means understanding the hidden rules of poverty. The second step, Payne says, is to teach poor students explicitly about the hidden rules of the middle class. She emphasizes that the goal should not be to change students’ behavior outside of school: you don’t teach your students never to fight if fighting is an important survival skill in the housing project where they live. But you do tell them that in order to succeed at school or later on in a white-collar job, they need to master certain skills: how to speak in “formal register,” how to restrain themselves from physical retaliation, how to keep a schedule, how to exist in what Payne calls the “abstract world of paper.”
That's what I understand as socialization, properly conceived. But the advocates of social transformation that have done much damage in the education schools don't like it. Ms Jacobs, however, notes,
I can’t imagine teaching if I believed students couldn’t do better than the lives to which they were born. If they’re doomed — barring a social revolution — why bother?
Indeed.

No comments: