Many policy makers and education officials are more interested in how to rid schools of unfit teachers than they are in attracting and retaining good ones. That’s unfortunate because the loss of good teachers, especially in high-poverty schools where they are needed most, poses a far greater threat to teacher quality and student learning than the presence of unfit teachers.
Consider these facts: in recent years over one-third of New York City’s teachers leave after three years. Not because of money (they knew what they would make when they entered the profession) but because of unsupportive teaching conditions. Nearly one-third of those who are assigned to teach core academic courses in New York City are teaching out-of-field because the district cannot find and keep teachers who are qualified for these positions.
Yet, only about 1% of New York City’s teachers receive unsatisfactory performance evaluations each year. And despite all of the hullabaloo about the city’s notorious “rubber rooms” (where until recently teachers accused of wrongdoing were paid to do nothing while waiting for their cases to be adjudicated), only one-twentieth of one percent of the city’s teachers wound up there.
As I argue in a paper I presented at a May 6 Teachers Network forum, incompetent teachers should be removed after they have been given a reasonable chance to succeed but a more important challenge is preventing the stunningly high numbers of effective teachers from leaving the profession and making sure the ones who stay have ample opportunity to improve.
One way to meet this challenge is for districts to provide time and support for teachers to collaborate with one another about their teaching and their students. This was confirmed, once again, by an important teacher retention study conducted recently by Teachers Network. Other studies show that good principals, quality professional development, and meaningful teacher evaluations also matter, but all too often these “system” supports are missing. Why so little hullabaloo here? Perhaps because that story doesn’t grab headlines like those about rubber rooms. Or because the officials who run school systems are more interested in holding teachers, rather than themselves, accountable for school failure.