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RETAINING OUR BEST: NCLB Implementation Must Address Teacher Attrition Problem

A new Alliance report, New-Teacher Excellence: Retaining Our Best, argues that as school districts around the nation work overtime to implement the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), they may inadvertently be accelerating the departure of experienced teachers and failing to provide struggling new teachers with the supports they need to become comfortable and effective in the classroom.

With veteran teachers leaving, districts must sometimes hire large numbers of underqualified or beginning teachers to fill the vacancies, and they often do so without putting necessary support systems in place. These new teachers are being recruited by the hundreds and thousands in many school districts that are facing rising enrollments, but little effort is made to allow their successful transition into the classroom. As a result, the very precondition necessary to ensure that no child is left behind-that is, students’ consistent access to qualified and effective teachers-is not being met.

Poor urban schools have been the hardest hit by this teacher shortage. Nationally, according to the report, classes in high-poverty secondary schools are 77 percent more likely to be assigned an “out-of-field” teacher-a teacher without experience in the subject she will teach-than classes in “low-poverty” schools. The problem is most acute in middle schools where 53 percent of classes in high-poverty middle schools are led by a teacher lacking a major in the subject she teaches. Even when teachers do come to low-performing schools, they rarely stay very long. Overall, 12 to 20 percent of teachers leave the classroom in their first year, with an even higher rate in urban and high-poverty schools.

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