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Spring 2004
Exodus
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GALLANDT PERSISITED IN THE CLASSROOM longer than most. Nationwide, one in three teachers leaves the profession during the first three years of teaching, and 46 percent leave during the first five years, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

Sadly, the schools with the highest rates of teacher attrition are those that can least afford it. Schools in high-poverty urban areas, already underfunded and under-resourced, often must replace one-fifth of their teaching faculty each year, says Karen Hunter Quartz Ph.D. '94, assistant director for research at UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education & Access. While retirements have been rising in recent years, they account for only a fraction of total turnover.

The Los Angeles Unified School District — where 86 percent of schools are urban — retains teachers at a higher rate than any other large urban district in the country, says LAUSD Human Resources Chief Deborah Hirsh. Still, the district each year replaces an average 6 percent to 7 percent of its 36,000 teachers. This year, the rate of new hires will rise to 9 percent, or 3,300 new teachers, in part because the district must replace a large number of uncredentialed teachers in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act, Hirsh says.

What makes the retention problem particularly distressing is that the "leavers" — educationese for teachers who get out of the profession for reasons other than retirement — tend to be among the best and the brightest, says Quartz, lead author of "Retaining Teachers in High-Poverty Schools: A Policy Framework," forthcoming in the International Handbook on Educational Policies. Many of them have advanced degrees, or an academic major or minor along with an education degree. Leavers also include secondary math and science teachers, and bilingual and special-education teachers — the cadre of educators who traditionally are in the shortest supply.

When Gallandt — who has experience as both a special-education and bilingual teacher — told Isken she was calling it quits, the principal was "devastated" to learn she was losing "a wonderful teacher who connects deeply with children and families."
Experts say the revolving door at urban schools exacts a terrible and unacceptable toll: Children who are most in need are not getting a quality education.

Good teaching comes through experience. Yet many teachers in their first year feel themselves drowning in a sink-or-swim environment that offers little support as they stumble through false starts while learning to manage their classrooms, familiarize themselves with the curriculum and develop their own style. On top of that, novice teachers often are given the most difficult classes, or they are assigned to urban schools that have a hard time attracting qualified teachers and often fill vacancies with unlicensed teachers or full-time substitutes. When children are assigned to inexperienced teachers year after year, it perpetuates the cycle of underachievement for urban youngsters, many of them low-income children of color, Quartz says.

High turnover is a circular problem. When the teaching staff is in flux, cohesiveness, continuity and collegiality among the faculty break down, Franke says. Schools must spend so much time and effort recruiting and training new teachers that their overall effectiveness suffers. The result is a negative work environment that pushes other teachers to leave as well.

Some attrition among teachers is inevitable. It's probably a good thing that a teacher who discovers that he or she is ill suited to the profession finds another line of work. But experts say that many good teachers could be kept from running for the exits if only they had the right kind of training and support. To survive in an urban school, Franke says, teachers need to engage with the community, build coalitions among colleagues and stay connected to their profession in the same way that lawyers and doctors do.

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