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May 2002 | Number 29
Attracting and Retaining Quality Teachers
Newspaper headlines dramatically declare that American public schools are facing a teacher shortage of epic proportions. States respond quickly by developing and implementing new incentive and training programs to attract more teachers to the profession. According to researchers, however, the problem is much more complex than the media would have us believe, and unless the initiatives developed to address the problem take this complexity into account, at best the problem will not be addressed and, at worst, the solutions may actually exacerbate the situation (National Association of State Boards of Education [NASBE], 1998; Ingersoll, 1998).
This Infobrief suggests that as education leaders and policymakers address the teacher shortage, they should carefully consider the following questions:
Researchers agree that climbing student enrollment, new laws requiring smaller class size, and impending retirements mean that the United States will need to attract more teachers over the next decade; however, many now disagree with initial projections, made during the 1980s and '90s, that the country will need as many as two million new teachers over the next decade. There is and there will continue to be a shortage, these researchers say, but recent data, which allow a more accurate assessment of trends, indicate that this shortage may not be as dramatic as earlier reports predicted (Wayne, 2000; Baker & Smith, 1997).
Researchers also dispute the conventional wisdom that the shortage exists because there are simply not enough qualified teachers to fill the number of vacant positions. If we consider only the number of qualified candidates and the number of job openings, there is an overall surplus of trained people (NASBE, 1998; Darling-Hammond, 2001). The shortage lies in the distribution of teachers: there are not enough teachers who are both qualified and willing to teach in urban and rural schools, particularly in those schools serving low-income students or students of color. There is also a shortage in certain geographic regions in the country, and there are not enough qualified individuals in particular specialties such as special education, bilingual education, and the sciences (NASBE, 1998; Bradley, 1999). Some also argue that it is not an insufficient production of qualified teacher candidates that causes staff shortage, as conventional analyses maintain, but rather the high rates of teacher turnover (Ingersoll, 2000).
Given these misunderstandings about the nature of the shortage, analysts argue that the policies and initiatives the states and districts have developed to address the problem are misguided. For example, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) argues that programs developed by states to simply attract more people to the profession are not likely to be effective: “Most states do not need to recruit more candidates into teacher preparation programs. Most states do not even need to attract higher quality candidates to teaching. What states do need, however, are targeted programs that attract candidates who are willing and able to meet the needs of the schools in which they will be asked to teach” (NASBE, 1998, p. 13).
Others argue that initiatives that seek to address the shortage by increasing the supply of candidates are not likely to be effective if they overlook the high turnover rate. These critics believe that if these initiatives are to be effective, they must focus more on retention and less on recruitment (Ingersoll, 2001).
The most obvious consequence of the shortage is that states, districts, and schools must invest considerable resources attracting potential candidates to fill empty positions. Additionally, however, the shortage has important consequences for the quality of education that children receive. According to Richard Ingersoll, when faced with difficulties in locating sufficient numbers of qualified job candidates, principals “most commonly do three things: hire less-qualified teachers, assign teachers trained in another field or grade level to teach in the understaffed area, and make extensive use of substitute teachers” (Ingersoll, 1997, p. 42). Consequently, students are being taught by teachers who lack the knowledge and skills necessary for quality instruction. Ingersoll's research, for example, shows that almost one-third of all high school math teachers have neither a major nor a minor in math or a related discipline. Almost one-fourth of high school English teachers have neither a major nor a minor in English or a related field. Almost half of all high school students enrolled in physical science courses are taught by teachers without at least a minor in any physical science. More than half of all high school history students are taught by teachers without either a major or a minor in history (Ingersoll, 1998). Consequently, “For English, math, and history, several million students a year in each discipline are taught by teachers without a major or minor in the field” (Ingersoll, 1998, p. 774).
Research shows overwhelmingly that students in low-wealth communities are more likely to be taught by teachers with deficient qualifications. According to Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, “While the teaching force in high-poverty and high-minority communities certainly includes some of the most dedicated and talented teachers in the country, the truth is that these teachers are vastly outnumbered by under- and, indeed, unqualified candidates. . . . Minority and poor youngsters—the very youngsters who are most dependent on their teachers for content knowledge—are systematically taught by teachers with the least content knowledge. Teachers who lack even a minor in the field they are teaching are more than three times more prevalent in low-wealth schools than in those with high wealth” (Haycock, 1998, p. 7).
Out-of-field teaching is problematic given the effect that teacher qualifications have on student learning. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, “studies show that teacher expertise is the most important factor in student achievement” (1996, p. 6). There is also evidence that the effects of teacher quality are long-lasting and cumulative; the effects of poor-quality instruction linger and are exacerbated over time (Haycock, 1998; Darling-Hammond & Ball, 1998). Recent research has also shown that teaching quality has an even greater effect on the achievement of at-risk students (Haycock, 1998). This is particularly troubling, given that out-of-field teaching takes place with greatest frequency in high-poverty urban and rural schools, in schools serving predominately children of color, and with students who are already achieving at lowest levels—all populations that are already at risk of school failure (Olson & Jerald, 1998; Ingersoll, 1998; Fetler, 1997).
The current policy context complicates the problem of attracting quality teachers. Many reforms initiated at the national and state levels have focused on holding all students accountable for achieving high standards and mastering rigorous subject matter and skills. And with the recent passage of President Bush's No Child Left Behind, states, districts, and schools will be held accountable for providing evidence that all students have achieved proficiency in core subject areas such as math, reading, and science.
Ultimately, the success of any education reform depends on whether teachers have the requisite professional knowledge and skill to produce student learning. “New courses, tests, and curriculum reforms can be important starting points” for improving education, “but they are meaningless if teachers cannot use them productively” (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996, p. 5). Thus, states and districts are left in a complex and uncomfortable situation: Faced with a shortage, there is a temptation to reduce requirements for entry into the profession and assign teachers to classes that they are not qualified to teach. At the same time, however, states must ensure that all teachers have the knowledge and skills necessary to bring about improvements in student learning. This has led some to wonder whether it is possible to “raise standards and have enough teachers, too” (Darling-Hammond, 2000a).
States and districts, faced with a shortage, are currently scrambling to attract new teachers. Some have experimented with offering relocation benefits and signing bonuses, forgiving student loans, shortening or waiving preservice training, recruiting and training education paraprofessionals, and attracting retired teachers back into the workforce (Johnson, 2000).
Massachusetts is one state that has experimented with a variety of these initiatives. For example, in 1998, it became the first state to offer a signing bonus as an incentive to attract new teachers. The state's Signing Bonus Program offers qualified individuals $20,000, special teacher training, and assistance in securing a teaching position in participating districts; recipients must commit to teach in Massachusetts public schools for at least four years. Candidates are also required to participate in a free, eight-week accelerated teacher credential program that includes lessons on classroom management, lesson planning, and instructional methodologies, as well a 100-hour student teaching component (National School Boards Association, 2001). The state hopes to lure highly qualified and motivated recent college graduates as well as midcareer professionals in math, science, and foreign languages to alleviate the shortage that the state is experiencing in those subject areas (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2002). Interest in the program is high; in its first year, more than 800 people from 36 states and 4 countries applied, and 59 people were selected to participate (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2000). Principals who hired teachers from the program appear to be satisfied with the quality of participants; they rate bonus teachers as performing as well as or better than other beginning teachers. Ninety percent of the principals interviewed would be willing to hire another bonus program teacher to fill a future vacancy (National School Boards Association, 2001).
Interviews with the 1999 recipients of the teaching bonus suggest that although the program did not make teaching more desirable as a career and thereby attract talented individuals who would not have chosen a career in teaching otherwise, it did make a career in teaching more possible for those who already had an interest in teaching by reducing the requirements and costs associated with preparation and licensing (Liu, Kardos, Kauffman, Peske, & Johnson, 2000).
Hoping to attract more candidates to the profession, particularly midcareer professionals with bachelor's degrees in subjects that suffer teacher shortages (e.g., math and science), many states have now developed alternative routes to the classroom. These routes reduce the length of time that teacher candidates spend in teacher education coursework. Some estimate that between 1983 and 1996, more than 50,000 teachers received training and certification through alternative certification programs in the United States. In Texas, approximately 16 percent of new teachers enter the classroom through alternative certification; in New Jersey, 22 percent; and in California, 8 percent (Feistritzer, 2001b). Forty-five states now report that they are developing or have already implemented an alternative certification route into the classroom (Feistritzer, 2001a).
However, while the number of states developing alternative routes into the profession and the number of teachers entering the profession through alternative certifications are on the rise, the debate among education researchers and policy analysts over the desirability and effectiveness of alternative certification remains heated. Advocates argue that such programs attract candidates who are members of ethnic minority groups, who are more likely to stay in the profession, and who would not otherwise enter teaching because family or job responsibilities make completion of traditional teacher education coursework difficult (Feistritzer, 2000; Kwiatkowski, n.d.). Critics, on the other hand, allege that alternatively certified teachers, because their education coursework has been abbreviated, do not have sufficient time to acquire the complex pedagogical skills necessary to help all students achieve high standards (Otuya, 1992; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997). Critics also argue that alternative certification programs—which must often cut the coursework in the cultural, political, ethical, and philosophical foundations of education that is part of traditional teacher education programs—do not help teachers develop their understanding of the complex context that schools are embedded within. They argue, like John Goodlad (1999), that teaching requires more than subject area knowledge and pedagogical skills; teachers must also come to understand their ethical responsibilities as educators of children and the role that schools and teachers are expected to play in a democratic society.
The Pathways to Teaching Careers Program is another innovative approach that seeks to address the teacher shortage in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas, as well as to attract teacher candidates from ethnic minority groups. One initiative of this program focuses on identifying and recruiting paraprofessionals and noncertified teachers currently working in public schools. This initiative offers these individuals scholarships and other support services so that they can obtain a bachelor's or master's degree as well as meet requirements for full state certification (Clewell & Villegas, 2001). Another Pathways initiative targets returning Peace Corps volunteers; the qualified candidates are placed in full-time salaried positions in urban and rural school districts and are given a two-year graduate level program leading to a teaching certificate and a master's degree. Evaluations of the program reveal that it has been successful; more than 2,200 individuals have been recruited, and a significant proportion of these were ethnic minorities. Those who complete the program are likely to teach in high-need schools and subject areas. Pathways graduates are perceived to be more effective as teachers than typical beginning teachers in the eyes of their supervisors, principals, and independent evaluators; they are also more likely than other beginning teachers to remain in teaching after three years (Clewell & Villegas, 2001).
Given the plethora of approaches for attracting teacher candidates to careers in teaching that states and districts are currently exploring, it may be difficult to choose which approach is most likely to attract candidates who have an understanding of subject matter, pedagogy, the diverse needs of learners, and the complex context of schooling, as well as a commitment to teaching in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas. Further complicating the problem are the reports published over the last decade to guide states and districts. The sheer number of these reports, combined with the facts that they frequently offer conflicting recommendations and are often based more on the ideological slant and political orientation of the issuing organization than on evidence or logical argument, make it difficult for states and districts to determine which course of action is best to follow. However, the following recommendations are generally accepted:
Researchers have compared the teaching profession to a revolving door (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). They argue that school staffing problems are caused not so much by an insufficient supply of qualified individuals but by “too many teachers leaving teaching” (Ingersoll, 1997, p. 2). For example, a U.S. Department of Education study of students who earned college degrees in 1992–93 found that nearly one out of five who graduated from college in that year and began teaching in the public schools by 1994–95 had left the profession by 1996–97 (Boser, 2000). Other studies have shown that approximately one-fourth of all beginning teachers leave the classroom within the first four years (Hare & Heap, 2001a).
Turnover is particularly pronounced in certain teaching fields, such as special education, mathematics, and science (Ingersoll, 2000). And although all types of districts report problems retaining new teachers, this problem is particularly pronounced in schools located in low-income areas (Hare & Heap, 2001b; NASBE, 1998). The turnover rate for schools located in high-poverty areas, for example, can climb as high as 50 percent (Hare & Heap, 2001a).
Even more alarming than the turnover rates themselves are data suggesting that the most intelligent and effective teachers—the teachers that policymakers are most interested in retaining—leave the profession at the highest rates. In a study conducted in the Midwest, for example, the majority of superintendents interviewed reported that from 75 to 100 percent of the teachers leaving classrooms are “highly effective” or “effective” (Hare & Heap, 2001b). Another study found that new teachers who scored in the top quartile on their college entrance exams are nearly twice as likely to leave teaching than those with lower scores (Boser, 2000).
Teacher turnover is problematic for a number of reasons. First and most obviously, it forces states, districts, and schools to devote attention, time, and financial resources to initiatives designed to attract additional candidates to replace those who leave the profession. In addition, once schools and districts have hired new teachers, they must expend “enormous energies developing [these] new teachers, who are likely to leave after only a few years and be replaced by yet another recruit in need of special resources and support” (NASBE, 1998, p. 7). Teacher turnover can also undermine schools' efforts to implement reforms; successful school reform requires sustained and shared commitment by school staff. Staff turnover means that new teachers, unfamiliar with and uncommitted to those reforms, must somehow be brought on board.
There are direct disadvantages for student learning as well. The skills and understandings that make for quality teaching take time to acquire, and research shows that new teachers are less effective at producing student learning than more experienced teachers (Hawley, 2000). Given the high turnover rate and its negative consequences, Ingersoll argues that, “teacher recruitment programs alone will not solve the staffing problems of schools if they do not also address the organizational sources of low retention” (Ingersoll, 2001, p. 501).
What reasons do teachers cite for leaving their positions? While retirement and school staffing cutbacks cause some teachers to leave, personal and family matters and job dissatisfaction are more frequently cited as reasons. According to Ingersoll (2000, 2001), 42 percent of all departees report leaving for job dissatisfaction or desire to pursue a better job, another career, or to improve career opportunities. Those who report leaving because of job dissatisfaction cite low salaries, lack of support from school administration, lack of student motivation, student discipline problems, and lack of teacher influence over decision making as factors influencing their decisions.
To some degree, the reasons that teachers cite for leaving vary according to their teaching context: Teachers in rural schools are more likely to leave due to social, geographic, cultural, and professional isolation than teachers in other contexts (Collins, 1999). Teachers in urban schools report being least satisfied by access to teaching resources and control over curriculum and pedagogy (Claycomb, 2000). Teachers in small private schools report that dissatisfaction with salaries and with their schools' administration lead them to leave (Collins, 1999).
Particularly problematic for the retention of new teachers is the lack of support that they receive from their schools. New teachers interviewed by researchers from the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers (see box on p. 3) reported that they received little guidance or encouragement from their new schools. For example, while most of the teachers had been formally assigned mentors, new faculty actually had few and limited opportunities to interact with those mentors (Johnson et al., 2001). Other research has shown that only 44 percent of teachers have participated in a formal first-year mentoring program, even though there is evidence that participation in such programs can reduce attrition rates by up to two-thirds (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Project research also showed that new teachers suffer from a lack of guidance from their colleagues on what to teach and how to teach (Kauffman, Johnson, Kardos, Liu, & Peske, 2001). New teachers are often faced with overwhelming workloads; they are frequently assigned the most challenging students, asked to teach multiple subjects, required to teach classes for which they are not certified, and assigned responsibility for overseeing extracurricular activities (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).
The current context of standards and accountability also complicates the problem of retaining new teachers and contributes to teacher turnover. As states and the federal government develop mandates related to testing and accountability, “districts are introducing new reforms and initiatives at a frenetic pace. As a result, new teachers are struggling to learn their craft in dynamic and frequently chaotic environments” (Johnson et al., 2001, p. 8). Despite the challenges that these new teachers face, according to the researchers from the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, “neither the structures nor the cultures of their schools seemed to be geared toward their needs as novice teachers” (Johnson et al., 2001, p. 8).
Teachers as a group report that they are dissatisfied by insufficient autonomy and control over teaching. According to Joel Spring, a historian of education, “In recent years the satisfaction that teachers have gained from autonomous decision making and creativity has been threatened by expanding bureaucratic structures and attempts to control teacher behavior in the classroom” (1996, p. 41). For example, there is evidence that the high-stakes environment associated with the standards and accountability movement has contributed to the decisions of experienced teachers to leave the profession (Hansel, Skinner, & Rotberg, 2001; Prince, 2002).
Low salaries and lack of respect from the public also pose a challenge for teacher retention. Research has shown that new teachers enter teaching primarily for its intrinsic or psychological rewards—that is, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, the pleasure of working with children, and love of a particular subject area—rather than extrinsic rewards such as salary or public respect (Lortie, 1975; Goodlad, 1984; Liu et al., 2000). However, while the extrinsic rewards may not attract people to the profession, lack of satisfaction with these rewards is frequently cited as a reason for leaving. Researchers have speculated that when receipt of intrinsic rewards is thwarted (through student discipline problems, for example, or insufficient autonomy in the classroom), teachers become less willing to tolerate the low salaries and lack of public respect (Goodlad, 1984).
So what can states and districts do to better retain teachers? Researchers and analysts have suggested a variety of strategies, including
The research suggests that if policymakers and education leaders do not understand the nature of the teacher shortage, the solutions that they develop will be ineffective in addressing that problem and may even create new problems in their wake. If states and districts react to news about the teacher shortage by developing programs that simply attract more candidates to the profession and quickly prepare them to enter the classroom, then they risk wasting valuable resources and undermining the quality of education that children receive; all programs must be designed to produce teachers who have the skills, knowledge, and commitment necessary to teach effectively in high-need areas. Similarly, if states and districts do not address the role that high teacher turnover plays relative to the teacher shortage, and they do not develop policies and initiatives that address the causes of high turnover in schools, then they will not effectively address the problem, and they undermine efforts to provide all children with a quality education.
The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers is a multiyear research project funded by the Spencer Foundation and housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The project addresses critical questions about the future of our nation's teaching force by studying how best to attract, support, and retain quality teachers in U.S. public schools. The project director is Susan Moore Johnson, Carl H. Pforzheimer Jr. professor of teaching and learning and former academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Research assistants include advanced doctoral students Sarah Birkeland, Susan M. Kardos, David Kauffman, Edward Liu, and Heather G. Peske.
To better understand what it will take to recruit and support a new cohort of talented and committed teachers, The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers dedicated its first year to interviewing a diverse sample of 50 first- and second-year Massachusetts teachers working in a wide variety of public schools. Project researchers tracked the new teachers' career movement the following year and interviewed them again the year after that. Project researchers will continue to follow the respondents for the next two years. Articles from this study appear in Educational Administration Quarterly, Phi Delta Kappan, and Teachers College Record.
The project's ongoing work focuses on hiring practices in schools, teachers' careers and career decisions, professional culture, principal leadership, curriculum, and alternative routes to teaching. Multistate case studies of alternative certification programs, a four-state survey of new teachers' experiences and attitudes, and comparative case studies of new teachers' experiences with math curriculum are underway. In subsequent years, project researchers hope to study effective minority recruitment strategies, career ladders, and new teachers' attitudes toward unions.
For more information about the project, visit its Web site at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~ngt/index.htm.
Research shows that one reason so many new U.S. teachers leave the profession within the first few years is the “sink or swim” approach to new teacher induction that is common to many U.S. schools. In contrast, beginning teachers in some other countries receive resources and guidance directed at helping them successfully make the move from teacher education to the classroom. A recent report published by the U.S. Department of Education, From Students of Teaching to Teachers of Students, examines teacher induction programs in Japan, New Zealand, and the Northern Territory of Australia.1
This report uses case studies to illustrate that even though their teachers often feel overwhelmed, as U.S. teachers do, these countries have successfully developed and implemented a number of strategies that support teachers and ease their transition into the classroom. According to the report, successful programs in these countries have certain common characteristics:
We believe that every child has the right to be taught by quality, fully licensed and certified teachers. To maintain quality in the wake of teacher and educator shortages, pathways into the education professions must prepare future teachers with the knowledge and tools for successful practice in teaching disciplines. Prospective educators must demonstrate competency including the ability to implement innovations in teaching and learning and an understanding of the role of schools in a democratic society.
Attracting, retaining, and developing quality teachers is essential in the current era of high-stakes accountability. Recent research suggests that having a quality teacher is a central factor in student success. Against the backdrop of educator shortages, particularly shortages in certain geographic locations and subject areas, the attraction and retention of quality teachers and educators becomes more complex and difficult. While salaries and benefits are important, the professional and policy contexts in which educators work also influence the attraction and retention of teachers and educators.
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The Association for Supervision and Curriculum DevelopmentASCD believes that quality professional development is an essential component of any effort to promote teacher retention and quality education. Search our Web site (http://www.ascd.org) for access to numerous resources related to teacher attraction and retention, professional development, and mentoring.
Education Policy Clearinghouse: Promoting Teacher QualityThis Web site (http://www.edpolicy.org/research/tq.htm) is operated by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a national voluntary association of colleges and universities that prepare educators. The site provides access to resources from government, policy centers, research centers, and the media. The resources are organized by region (West, Midwest, South, Northeast), and the site contains information about a free e-mail news bulletin and a user-operated bulletin board.
The Education Commission of the States (ECS)A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of education leaders. Visit ECS's Web page on teacher quality (http://www.ecs.org/ html/issue.asp?issueid=129) for access to research summaries, descriptions of state activities to attract and retain quality teachers, and links to information about compensation, evaluation, mentoring, and professional development. The site also contains a section on attracting and retaining quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
Moskowitz, J., and Stephens, M. (Eds.). (1997). From students of teaching to teachers of students: Teacher induction around the Pacific Rim. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
Moskowitz, J., and Stephens, M. (Eds.). (1997). From students of teaching to teachers of students: Teacher induction around the Pacific Rim. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.
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