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A POSSIBLE DREAM: New Report Examines Teacher Shortfall in California, Concludes that a Lack of Support, Not Low Pay, Drives Teachers from Classrooms

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“Too many teachers leave the profession prematurely—critical problems in the teaching and learning environment are literally driving teachers from the classroom,” said Dr. Ken Futernick

Research has found that California’s teacher shortfall is expected to increase from 20,000 in 2005 to 33,000 in 2015 if the state does not take action to keep more teachers in the profession. An unusually high number of teachers are expected to retire in the next few years, while the number of new teachers entering the field is expected to decline; however, the principal cause of the shortfall is that many teachers leave the profession before they reach retirement age.

Why do teachers leave early? According to a new survey of nearly two thousand of California’s current and former teachers, more than half who left the profession did so not because of low pay, but because of concerns over inadequate supports such as a lack of time for planning or professional development, and because of bureaucratic impediments such as classroom interruptions, unnecessary meetings, and too little say over the way their schools are run. The survey’s findings are captured in A Possible Dream: Retaining California Teachers So AllStudents Learn, a new report from the California State University (CSU) Center for Teacher Quality.

“Too many teachers leave the profession prematurely—critical problems in the teaching and learning environment are literally driving teachers from the classroom,” said Dr. Ken Futernick, the principal author of the report and the director of K–12 Studies at the CSU Center for Teacher Quality at CSU Sacramento. “If California is going to resolve its teaching shortage and improve instruction for all students, we need to make changes that will keep teachers in the classroom and convince some who have left to return.”

Teacher compensation is often cited as a chief reason that teachers leave the profession, but the report finds that teacher pay is less important than the support that teachers receive in their schools. It also finds that although better compensation certainly matters to teachers, teacher retention rates are unlikely to improve by increasing teacher pay unless there is a corresponding focus on improvements to the teaching and learning environment.

The importance of support systems for teachers is also evident in the responses of teachers who are happy in the profession and plan to stay. When asked why they planned to stay in the profession, satisfied teachers cite their ability to provide meaningful input in the decisionmaking process at their schools and strong, collaborative relationships with their colleagues. Satisfied teachers also stress the importance of adequate time for planning and resources for classroom learning materials as reasons for staying. According to the report, when these positive conditions were in place, many “stayers” viewed their compensation as adequate and as a reason for staying in the profession.

Unfortunately, far too many of California’s teachers lack these necessary support systems. The report notes that, annually, close to eighteen thousand of California teachers leave the profession before reaching retirement age. It also finds that 22 percent of California teachers leave the profession after their first four years in the classroom and another 10 percent transfer away from high-poverty schools each year.

The cost of replacing teachers who leave is staggering. The report points to research from the Alliance for Excellent Education that says that California spends more than $455 million each year to recruit, hire, and prepare replacement teachers. The most serious consequence of high teacher turnover, however, is not the financial impact, but the loss of continuity, experience, and expertise that negatively impacts the educational experience of students.

Far more often than not, the impact of qualified teachers leaving the profession is most directly felt in high-poverty, high-minority schools. In California, 21 percent of teachers in these schools lacked a teaching credential in 2005. The impact of the teaching shortage also hits high schools. In fact, 15 percent of math and English teachers in California high schools lacked a major or minor in the subject they taught.

According to the report, cutting the teacher attrition rate would mean that teachers would be less likely to transfer from hard-to-staff schools. It notes that if California could cut teacher attrition by 30 percent, it would prevent five thousand teachers from leaving the profession every year. In addition, if California could make improvements to teachers’ work environments, even without increases in salary, teachers who have left teaching would return to the classroom. The report points out that if the state could increase the rate at which teachers reenter the profession by 30 percent, the overall supply of teachers would increase by 500 annually.

The complete report is available here.

The Alliance issue brief Teacher Attrition: A Costly Loss to the Nation and to the States, which provides a state-by-state analysis of the high price that states pay each year to replace teachers who leave the profession, is available here.

 

Save the Date(s):The Alliance for Excellent Education’s Fourth Annual High School Policy Conference
This year, Congress has the opportunity to improve the nation’s high schools as it considers the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The question is whether Congress has the will to do so. In an effort to ensure that Congress’s deliberations adequately address the needs of high schools, the Alliance for Excellent Education will hold its fourth annual high school policy conference, From No Child Left Behind to Every Child a Graduate, on October 4–5, at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, DC. The conference will convene local, state, and national education leaders to discuss federal strategies for improving the achievement of the nation’s struggling middle and high school students.Last year’s conference examined the consensus that has been building around a federal agenda for high school reform. Leveraging that momentum, this year’s conference will focus on explicit policies that should be included in the reauthorization of NCLB to improve high schools.

The conference will provide policymakers, educators, and other stakeholders with concrete information about and recommendations for what Congress should do to improve the nation’s secondary schools. Federal policymakers will be making decisions influencing American middle and high schools; this conference will support their efforts to ensure that those decisions are wise and effective.

More information about the agenda and registration will be posted in the next few weeks athttps://all4ed.org/events/fourth_HSpolicyconference.

The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future’s 2007 Annual Symposium
On July 8–10, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) will hold its 2007 annual symposium, Schools Organized for Success: The Future of Teaching. The symposium will provide the opportunity to collaborate with coalitions from over thirty states to develop and refine strategies for improving teaching quality, school performance, and student achievement. Presenters at the conference include Monica Martinez of KnowledgeWorks FoundationJohn Bransford of the LIFE Center at the University of Washington, and former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

More information on the symposium, including a preliminary agenda and registration details, is available athttp://nctaf.org/resources/events/annual_symposia/2007AnnualSymposium.htm.

 

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