Vperspective

Middle school teacher turnover high

Getting topical in Brooklyn

getting-topical-in-brooklynMiller PhotographyThe mayoral election, teacher evaluations and the fact-finding process for a new contract were the topics of discussion when UFT Vice President for Middle Schools Richard Farkas (standing) met with members at KAPPA V/MS 518 in Brooklyn on May 15.

For any organization to be successful, stability in its workforce, management and philosophy is essential. This is true whether it’s a business, a sports team or a school. A blend of new ideas and past experiences allows an organization to make smooth transitions and achieve its objectives.

I have never taken a business class and I’m sure there are some in the corporate world who will disagree, but to me it is common sense that stability is crucial to an organization. For a clear example, look at the records of the Giants and the Jets.

A March 2013 study by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools — “Who Stays and Who Leaves?” — focuses on this pivotal issue. It analyzes teacher turnover in New York City middle schools, looks at where teachers go when they leave and examines the factors in their work environment that cause them to leave. Among its findings:

  • More than half of middle school teachers who entered their school during the past decade left that school within three years.
  • Middle school teachers leave their schools at higher rates than elementary and high school teachers.
  • Only about one in 10 departing middle school teachers leave for another New York City middle school. The majority exit the city’s public school system, with most of the remainder moving to elementary or high schools.

What was interesting is that there was little variation in these phenomena among schools across the city. Indeed, the majority of New York City middle schools are losing similarly high numbers of teachers, on average, over time.

The study also found that teachers are more likely to leave their school if they entered teaching through alternative routes or are teaching a new subject for the first time.

Not surprisingly, the study revealed that teachers are more likely to stay in schools that are perceived to have strong principal leadership, high levels of order and teacher collegiality. Out of 14 different factors for leaving, the three most important were: 1. lack of student discipline; 2. lack of support from administrators; and 3. wanting to have more influence over school policies.

There have been middle school task forces, reports and initiatives over the years — too many to count — all seeking to address the lack of progress and the shortcomings of our middle schools.

If middle schools are unstable and impersonal, students may find it even more difficult to manage the critical middle school years. And as the report states, this becomes a vicious cycle. As a veteran teacher explained, “It’s hard to turn around a bad school when you constantly have to improve a new staff. It’s very difficult.”

The report concludes by recommending a policy initiative to support and provide incentives to teachers who specialize in working with early adolescents and who commit to doing so for an extended period of time. It is difficult to believe that stable and effective middle schools will become prevalent in our city without directly addressing teacher turnover.

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