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Confronting high turnover among teachers: options?

May 12, 2008 am31 1:24 am

(apologies for my absence. The Real World intervenes without asking permission, without conducting a study…)

Turnover among teachers in New York, especially new teachers, is high. It’s a long time we’ve been saying median years of service is 5, or under 5. I doubt it’s that high systemwide, and at many schools it’s far, far less than that.

Options, real and otherwise:

High turnover means fewer teachers (and administrators) have the personal authority that comes from experience that allows us to challenge Tweeds blatantly stupid, destructive, anti-teacher, anti-child policies. They love high turnover. We should hate it.

1. Figure out what’s making the job so hard to stay in, and address those issues, policy level.

  • note: women have more options in the workplace than 30 years ago – teaching for many was once the only option, no longer.
  • note: school system doesn’t seem especially concerned with low performance from poorer and darker precincts, except when that makes headlines – cf their little gifted and talented steal from the poor to give to nobody routine.
  • note: unstable, ungrounded, unskilled, insecure admin corps makes institutional change tough to envision being carried out.
  • note: there should be about 20 more notes)

1. Change Ed policy and practice to address turnover, or 2. Use union (collective) power to confront turnover, or 3. use democratic practice and shared decision making to keep some teachers around longer or 4. celebrate turnover, the schools and the kids be damned.  The DoE likes #4.

2. Figure out what’s making the job tough to stay in, and use the power of the union to confront those issues. My approach, and to a lesser extent, my union’s approach. Class size. Protecting teacher rights. Supporting new teachers. — in order to extend careers. To do this we need to (you’ve read it all here before) shift resources to field staff, build chapters, ensure that they meet. Empower the chapter ahead of other school-based institutions etc etc.

(continues beneath fold) –>

3. Make the job more empowering or democratic. This is a lot of my union’s approach, but it generally fails on two counts 1) the DoE is a dishonest, cheating, lying partner, and 2) the empowering projects generally help some teachers at the expense of others

  • Teacher Centers
  • Mentoring
  • School-based merit pay
  • School Leadership teams
  • SBO hiring (remember that? I actually think that that almost worked)
  • C-30s
  • the collaborative ideals ensconced in the mission statements of most of our new (over the last 8 years) mini-schools (most of which turned out to be, ironically, fiction.)
  • etc

Even their unjustified faith in “pro-union” charters, as a project, captures this sentiment. And as we see with the relatively high turnover in East New York, it doesn’t seem to deliver. Some of the projects privileged loyalists, or senior teachers, or rising stars. All of them, to an extent, remove power from the chapter/membership and place it in the hands of individual teachers. And taken as a whole, had the doe not subverted them, they create a layer of special teachers, admins without portfolio… Some of how we handle comp time exacerbates this.

4. Teacher turnover? The last option is to celebrate it. To exacerbate it. To turn it into something positive. We can’t do that. The doe can. It does. High turnover keeps the union weaker. High turnover means more teachers are willing to live with unfair rules or treatment (as they will only live with them 2 or 3 years). High turnover means teachers are scared, insecure. High turnover means fewer teachers (and administrators) have the personal authority that comes from experience that allows us to challenge Tweeds blatantly stupid, destructive, anti-teacher, anti-child policies. They love high turnover. We should hate it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2008 am31 7:28 am 7:28 am

    What’s SBO hiring? And why did it almost work?

  2. June 1, 2008 pm30 3:49 pm 3:49 pm

    SBO hiring partially replaced seniority transfers in the late 90’s through 2005. The decision to go with one or the other was made school by school, with something like 10-20% going SBO in any given year.

    SBO = School Based Option. Each position was posted in an SBO listing (citywide) and applicants sent in a 1-line “I am interested” In the school, a committee, the majority of whose members were union members, drafted criteria for each position, and sent them to the the applicants. The applicants returned more detailed written information. The committee chose which applicants were to be interviewed, conducted the interviews, and hired.

    A big deal here is that the committee laid out a criteria for being qualified for the position. Each candidate was deemed “qualified” or “unqualified” and from the pool of qualified candidates, the most senior was offered the job.

    Note two things that this was not: The most senior candidate was not automatically offered the job. And the most qualified was not automatically offered the job. (there was an out for wildly perfect qualifications – eg the candidate was for a program that included a sports journalism elective, and the candidate had written the NY Times guide to writing about journalism…)


    Power relations. Even with a majority of teachers, it was hard to disagree with your principal.

    Work: writing the criteria was a lot of work. So was doing the interviews, verifying that the scoring was by rule, etc.

    Scope: In big schools with lots of openings, writing boutique-y job descriptions didn’t make much sense for most departments: Need 6 math teachers, mostly for Course I (algebra), eventually teaching a range of courses.

    In no year did anything near a majority of schools sign on.

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