Friday, July 03, 2009

Teacher turnover plagues Chicago public schools

Check out the full report The Schools Teachers Leave: Teacher Mobility in Chicago Public Schools. What's not mentioned in this article or the report are how policies facilitate the creation of "poor climate" schools when they define performance solely on test performance. This undermines both students and teachers.


By Azam Ahmed | Chicago Tribune reporter
June 29, 2009

A cornerstone of student achievement is school stability, a goal that includes keeping consistent teaching staff that collaborates and offers students a steady learning experience whether in elementary or high school.

But a new report shows about 100 Chicago schools lose more than a quarter of their staff every year, crippling efforts to create an effective learning environment for children in largely African-American schools.

The study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago highlights a national concern over how to keep good teachers in tough environments.

The study, which was released Monday, reviewed personnel records from 35,000 public school teachers in 538 elementary schools and 118 high schools over a five-year period from the 2002-03 to 2006-07 school years. No charter schools were included in the study.

On the whole, more than half of the Chicago Public Schools teachers whose records were reviewed left their schools within five years, a figure consistent with the state and the rest of the nation. But in high schools where teachers show particularly low morale, 76 percent of teachers left within that time frame, the study shows.

"Once you build that bond, when somebody leaves, it sort of tears away from it," said Clarissa Williams, a third-year teacher at Altgeld Elementary School in the Englewood neighborhood. "For the students, that one face they learned to trust over the whole entire school year is not there any longer.

"In a way it kind of tears at their foundations too."

Teacher turnover is not always a bad thing because it can mean resolution to staffing conflicts or weeding out bad teachers, educators say.

But if high turnover rates are sustained, recruiting staff can become a major challenge, they add. The turnover can lead to teacher shortages in key subjects and devastate efforts to keep good teachers.

Schools with the highest turnover tend to be among the worst performers, creating a vicious cycle that continues to hurt the school, the study shows. Teachers leave because of a poor school climate and poor performance; in turn, both climate and performance suffer when turnover is a high.

"Many of these are low-performing schools are in very high-needs neighborhoods. So it creates a very demanding environment for a teacher to work in," said Cindy Brunswick, director of the Chicago New Teachers Center. Brunswick's group offers coaches for new teachers to help them cope with the pressures and demands in a new school. The first year is a critical time for teachers because 33 percent will leave after one year, the study said.

The culture of a school matters a lot, the study found. Schools where teachers are committed to their school and say they look forward to coming to work only lose about 10 percent of their instructors in a given year, according to the study.

The behavior of students in the classroom is a very important factor in teachers leaving, particularly at high schools, the study found. Teachers are also more likely to stay in places where they feel they can influence school decisions, the study says, and healthy relationships with parents are another key factor in reducing turnover.

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