Lynch: Staffing Schools with Committed, Competent Teachers
Matthew Lynch writes that we need to recruit quality teachers and support them well, both professionally and with compensation, once they’re on the job.
In order for school reform in the U.S. to be successful, we must recruit, train, retrain, and fairly compensate teachers. School districts continuously engage in the complementary processes of recruiting and retaining teachers. The current economic downturn however has forced many states to make painful reductions in their public education expenditures—which in turn impacts the ability of school districts to hire and sometimes to retain high quality teachers. It makes sense, then, for districts able to hire to proceed with the most prudent polices available that relate to teacher recruitment, and to engage effective strategies to retain excellent teachers.
Teacher Entry, Mobility, and Attrition
The highest proportion of new teachers in any given year is female, with White women accounting for higher numbers than women in ethnic minority groups. There is evidence, however, that in the early 1990s the number of new minority educators increased. At the same time, college students graduating with high academic achievements are less likely to enter teaching than other graduates. Teachers, both in their early years of teaching and when nearing retirement, show a similar trend in high turnover and drop-out rates, producing a pattern related to age or experience.
Higher attrition rates have been noted in Whites and females in the fields of science and mathematics, and in those who have higher measured academic ability. Location of teaching position also impacts mobility and attrition rates. Most studies demonstrate that suburban and rural school districts have lower attrition rates than urban districts. Public schools, on average, are found to maintain higher teacher retention rates than private schools. Not surprisingly, higher salaries are associated with lower teacher attrition, while dissatisfaction with salary is associated with higher attrition and a waning commitment to teaching.
Compensation and Working Conditions
Entry, mobility, and attrition patterns discussed above indicate that teachers seek increased salaries, greater rewards, and improved working conditions. Educators tend to transfer to teaching or even non-teaching positions that meet desired criteria. Higher compensation results in lower attrition. These findings suggest teacher recruitment and retention is dependent on the desirability of the teaching profession in relation to other opportunities. The inherent appeal of teaching depends on “total compensation” which compares the total reward from teaching, both extrinsic and intrinsic, with possible rewards determined through other activities.
Schools with high percentages of minority students and urban schools are harder to staff, and teachers tend to leave these schools when more attractive opportunities become available. Certain factors, which can apparently be influenced by policy change, may affect individuals’ decisions to enter teaching, as well as teachers’ decisions to transfer within or leave the profession.
Lower turnover rates among beginning teachers are found in schools with induction and mentoring programs, and particularly those related to collegial support. Teachers given greater autonomy and administrative support show lower rates of attrition and migration. Better working conditions, intrinsic rewards, and higher salaries remain the most compelling elements of concern to teachers. The traditional system, whereby teachers are paid based solely on their years of experience and level of education, has caused many critics to claim that it does not promote good teaching, or is not as fair as other systems that pay based on performance, ability in certain skills, or willingness to teach in areas of high need.
Proponents of the traditional system argue that teachers’ experience and education are crucial indicators of their performance, and that because of its open and fair assessment it is the only logical choice. To reach an optimum balance, educators and policymakers have created numerous methods for revising how teachers are compensated, each seeking to adjust teacher incentives differently.
As the scientific evidence on these methods’ effectiveness is extremely limited, it is difficult to choose among them. Historically, implementing any pay reform, let alone directing a critical study of one, can be a demanding issue. A number of ambitious and interesting reforms have folded, often within a few years, under opposing political pressure or from fiscal restrictions. Attempts to study the few surviving reforms have yielded little usable data to date.
Preservice and Inservice Teacher Policies
Literature on the influence of preservice policies on teacher recruitment and retention are limited, however there are two important points that should command attention of school districts. One of the recommendations of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future in its report, What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future was that teachers be licensed based on demonstration of knowledge and skills.
This edict led states and teacher education programs to require teachers to pass a battery of tests before they exited teacher education programs and/or before they were licensed by states. These actions resulted in a reduction of the number of minority students entering and completing teacher education programs. Therefore school districts seeking more diverse teaching staffs will see a limited number of minority candidates available for recruitment.
A second preservice teacher policy to which districts should attend is the difference between candidates completing traditional teacher education programs and those completing alternative route programs. Teacher candidates completing alternative route teacher education programs tend to be older and more diverse. Further, they tend to have higher retention rates than candidates completing traditional programs. Recruiting teacher candidates from these programs could address both the needs for more diverse teaching staffs and the desire to retain good teachers.
Districts wanting to retain their best teachers should strongly consider what matters to teachers who remain in their teaching positions. Mentoring and induction programs tend to matter to inservice teaches, as does class size, autonomy, and administrative support. It is also interesting to note that state accountability practices also impact teachers’ decisions to remain in their positions.
Financial circumstances notwithstanding, districts have control over some of these issues. They should consider publicizing situations favorable to inservice teachers, as a tool for both recruitment and retention. As districts develop their reform agenda, they should put at the forefront a vision for the type of teaching force needed to support their plans for reform, and use empirical studies as a guide to recruit and retain teachers.
Dr. Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. Dr. Lynch is the author of three forthcoming books; Its Time for Change: School Reform for the Next Decade (Rowman & Littlefield 2012), A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories (Routledge 2012), and The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching (Pearson 2013). To read more of his work, please visit his blog at www.matthewsruminations.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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