"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It's the Poverty and Hopelessness, Stupid!

While merit pay, combat pay, do-gooder pay, and all other symtom treatments fail to solve the teacher retention problem, the dropout problem, or the academic problem, these band-aids also keep teachers from the reason they went into teaching to begin with--to make a difference in the lives of children and to see children grow. These so-called solutions offer more evidence of a persistent, self-imposed blindness that we refuse to give up.

An illustrative clip from an op-ed by Walt Gardner:
Beset by the retirement of veteran teachers and the flight of younger faculty, schools in poor neighborhoods across the country are increasingly turning to combat pay to recruit and retain replacements. But the controversial strategy will not produce the 700,000 teachers they need in the next decade. The bleak outlook has particular relevance for California, where every year 10 percent of teachers in schools serving poor students transfer to other schools. The most recent evidence comes from Dallas, which had only 65 takers for its offer of $6,000 annual bonuses to lure teachers to the city's hard-to-staff schools. Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas attributed the disappointing results to the amount tendered. They estimated that bonuses would have to equal 45 percent of base pay to attract the number of teachers required. If they are correct, the amount would come to an average of $20,000 for mid-career teachers.

But even that overly optimistic prediction offers only a partial solution because it focuses solely on the recruitment side of the equation. It says nothing about the equally important retention side.

Churn is costly. It forces a school to repeatedly screen new teachers, undermines instructional continuity, and makes students feel abandoned. Massachusetts serves as a case in point. In 1999, the Bay State began offering $20,000 sign-up bonuses to teachers, primarily to lure them to failing schools. After one year, however, one-fifth of these teachers bailed out of the classroom entirely, while many others fled to suburban schools.

Massachusetts's experience does not bode well for Denver. Under a recently implemented strategy known as ProComp, which was funded after voters agreed to pony up an additional $25 million in property taxes, teachers receive bonuses for working in hard-to-staff schools as well as for meeting three other requirements. This likely explains why teacher applications, so far, are up substantially. But it's doubtful that the trend will continue once word travels through the grapevine about the daunting task of educating students with huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development. . . .

1 comment:

  1. I've just stumbled upon your blog and had to comment since my husband and I were just talking about this type of thing today. I teach in an urban district with 85% low income and a large number of minority students - I would be willing to take a pay CUT if there were a way to give these children stable lives and avoid the behavioral and personal problems they face daily. It would be so much easier to teach to students who are well fed, have adequate clothing, can control their behavior, and who want to and are expected by their parents to be successful in school!

    The types of teachers who are willing to work for bonuses - and who actually stay for that reason - are not the type of teachers the public really wants. And in the end, being able to keep the teachers won't make the students any more successful.