Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Is your child's teacher coming back next year?

Did you know that the attrition of teachers each year is very similar to the attrition of police officers?   It is also higher than nurses, another profession with high stress.  Most other professions have much lower attrition rates.   So why is that?
One of the most often quoted reasons is low pay.  But the fact is that really isn’t true anymore.   Many teachers make in the 6 figures after 20 years of experience.  New teachers with only a bachelor’s degree start in the low 40’s.  That is not bad for a 190-day work year.  The benefits are great and once tenure is secured, it is very difficult to get fired.  You really have to work at losing your job.
So what is the issue?   Are kids really that much worse than they were twenty years ago?   Probably some are, but it is also true that the “bad” behaviors of the past were probably considered just as extreme as the “bad” behaviors of the present.
Several reasons have been advanced.  Most specifically, many researchers believe it is both the accountability programs (i.e. testing) and the sanctions that have been applied to schools with poor testing results.  The sanctions were part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and those sanctions were definitely disproportionately applied to schools with a preponderance of racial minority kids and/or lower socio-economic students.   Admittedly teachers in these schools face particular challenges and while no school would welcome sanctions, many teachers felt the application of sanctions amounted to a piling on an already difficult situation.
Researchers sought to confirm this widely held belief.  What they discovered was that there was another variable out there that was more powerful than test scores.  Imagine that!   Schools that failed assessments and received sanctions had the highest rate of faculty drop out.  That rate hit 20%, ok, no surprise there.  It was 5% higher than schools that had failed assessments but received no sanctions.  However, the common wisdom that schools that passed the assessments would have the lowest turnover turned out not to be true.  The lowest turnover rate belonged to schools that FAILED assessments, RECEIVED sanctions BUT whose teachers felt they had high teacher autonomy.  It seems that the critical variable is not failing, not sanctions, but autonomy.
I am guessing that this autonomy thing is not just about teaching.  Being a police officer is stressful but important work.  How much autonomy in today’s climate do police officers have?  Their lives are at risk but how much autonomy do they have.  Likewise if you look at other professions with low turnover, these are professions with a high degree of autonomy.  In fact, long ago and far away autonomy was considered the hallmark of a profession.

We trust our teachers to prepare our kids for their futures but we don’t trust them to teach at a pace that works for those kids.  If we want smart, well-qualified people to teach all of our kids, we need to trust them to make the hard day-to-day decisions on how to do that.

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