From the Los Angeles Times
Teachers dropping out too
A study blames working conditions. Higher pay isn't the answer, it says.
By Howard Blume
Times Staff Writer
April 27, 2007
As a mid-career professional with a doctorate in chemistry, Maurice Stephenson appeared made to order for the Los Angeles Unified School District, especially because he was eager to teach at a high-poverty campus in a system woefully short of qualified science teachers.
But the honeymoon ended abruptly after less than two years. Fed up with student insolence and administrative impotence, he stalked out of Manual Arts High School on March 12 and never went back.
Few teachers quit so dramatically, but leave they do. In California, teachers are departing the profession in alarming numbers — 22% in four years or fewer — but simply offering them more money won't solve the problem, according to a report released Thursday.
The real issue is working conditions, which are the flip side of a student's learning conditions, said Ken Futernick, who directs K-12 studies at the Center for Teacher Quality at Cal State Sacramento.
His study, which was based on a survey of nearly 2,000 California teachers, maps a growing crisis that fundamentally affects student learning.
The study also casts doubt on commonly pursued remedies both for the teacher shortage and student achievement in general.
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," Futernick said.
Stephenson is among the 35% of L.A. Unified teachers who quit within five years, according to school district data.
And as in most other cases, salary wasn't the primary factor.
In fact, L.A. Unified's data lists salary as the No. 9 reason why new hires leave. No. 1 is "moving." But also cited are "lack of support from administrator," "student discipline policy" and "unmotivated students."
Those results are consistent with Futernick's findings: "When teaching and learning conditions are poor, we discovered that many teachers see their compensation as inadequate. When these teaching and learning conditions are good, not only do teachers tend to stay, they actually view their compensation as a reason for staying."
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.
"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."
Other states, including Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina, use teacher survey information in ways that California does not, Futernick said. North Carolina, in particular, has adopted workplace standards that protect teachers from unnecessary interruptions, paperwork and meetings.
Such standards seem a universe apart from the experience of a former Los Angeles middle school teacher who said she taught at a rodent- and roach-infested campus where students read at a second-grade level and frequently wandered the grounds because no one made them go to class.
"It got to the point where my morale was so low, and I cared so little that I would show up 15 minutes late, with my students waiting outside. No one ever said a word to me. I was still a star," said the former teacher, who asked not to be named because she has returned to the school system for a job outside the classroom.
She had to leave the classroom because "I saw myself turning into the others. What we attract are the martyrs and the lazy, and the conditions perpetuate it."
For the report, go to http://www.calstate.edu/ teacherquality/retention.
Why teachers leave
Top 10 reasons cited by California teachers who quit or planned to quit teaching, or who planned to transfer out of their current schools, because of job dissatisfaction:
Percent saying each reason affected decision
Bureaucratic interference: 57%
Poor support from district: 52%
Low staff morale: 45%
Lack of resources: 42%
Unsupportive principal: 42%
Poor compensation: 41%
Too little decision- making authority: 405
Too little time for planning: 36%
Accountability pressures: 35%
Lack of teamwork: 35%
Note: Responses are from 220 current and former California teachers who participated in a 2005 online survey by the California State University Center for Teacher Quality.
Source: California State University Center for Teacher Quality
Los Angeles Times