OP-ED | Throwing Good Teachers Out With The Bath Water?
Experienced teachers produce higher student test scores. So it should be a matter of great concern that there are more novice teachers in our schools now than there were a decade ago. In 1987-88, the most common level of experience for K-12 teachers was 14 years; by 2007-08, it had dropped to 1-2 years. This is a problem, and a big one. But Gov. Dannel P. Malloy doesn’t see it that way.
“That’s because we hired a whole bunch of teachers at the same time,” Malloy said, in response to a question on the issue during CTNewsJunkie’s first Editorial Board meeting on Friday in the governor’s office. “For instance we’re about to see 152 state troopers are eligible for retirement July 1. You know why? Because they were all hired at the same time. We’re going to see over the next couple of years about 60 percent of corrections officers be eligible for retirement. You know why? Because we ran up the employment numbers very rapidly because we followed a one size fits all approach to lowering crime.”
However, there’s data that contradicts the Governor’s repeated assertion that teachers may be leaving the profession simply as the result of a retirement bubble, rather than an early exodus.
In the study, Why do High-Poverty Schools have Difficulty Staffing their Classrooms with High Quality Teachers?, Dr. Richard M. Ingersoll of the Graduate School of Education at University of Pennsylvania, states that the “data show that the demand for new teachers and subsequent staffing difficulties are not primarily due to student enrollment and teacher retirement increases, as widely believed … Rather, the data show that the demand for new teachers, and subsequent staffing difficulties, are primarily due to pre-retirement teacher turnover. That is, most of the hiring of new teachers is simply to fill spots vacated by teachers who just departed. And most of those departing are not doing so because of gray hair.”
Some of the reasons they are departing? Ingersoll’s study found that aside from personal reasons and school staffing actions because of closings and budget cuts, the primary reasons, particularly in poor urban environments, come down to job dissatisfaction resulting from factors such as “a lack of resources, support and recognition from the school administration; a lack of teacher influence over school and classroom decision-making; too many intrusions on classroom teaching time; inadequate time to prepare; poor salaries; and student discipline problems.”
What’s more, despite the Governor’s adamant assertions to the contrary, experts like Deborah M. Hill and Marlene Barth say teachers are leaving the profession because of high-stakes testing.
Hill and Barth authored an article published in the journal Education and the Law that they titled, “NCLB and Teacher Retention: Who Will Turn Out The Lights?” They quote a study by Justice & Greiner Anderson that found teachers who are leaving the profession are citing “‘low teacher morale, enhanced by school and district pressure for high student achievement on standardized tests.’”
Gov. Malloy’s focus is clearly on teacher evaluation and on tenure specifically; he returned to the point that in every school, teachers and parents already have identified the bad teachers. He wants to get rid of them, and he believes that this, along with his other reforms, acts as a “down payment” on addressing other potential areas needing improvement in education, such as special education and issues of poverty and class.
The governor has focused heavily on testing as an assessment. He suggested that “Most of the people who complain about testing are teaching kids who are not doing very well on tests.” In fact, in the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, conducted in 2008, only 48 percent of teachers agreed that standardized tests are effective in helping them track student performance, down from 61 percent in 1984. Educators, at least some of them, are starting to look beyond the test.
The governor, however, kept bringing the conversation back to tenure, which is both the most controversial and perhaps the most far-reaching of his reforms.
“One of the things I say to folks when they’re critical of any portion of [the bill] … I ask if they have a child,” Malloy said. “And then when they say that they do, I say, ‘Now tell me, when that child was in school was there ever a teacher in any one of the buildings your child attended that you wanted your child to avoid having?’”
He provided an example:
“Listen I had teachers growing up ... I had a teacher who was an alcoholic,” Malloy said. “You probably knew a teacher in one of the buildings you went to who was an alcoholic and as a result was not a very good teacher. And yet the person remained in the building for, you know, the rest of their career.”
Perhaps the Governor’s strong views were formed by his own experiences as a student. A lot of ours were as well. Certainly, we all encountered a subpar teacher at least once during the course of our education. But should we drive the best, most experienced teachers out of the system in order to cure the problem of the worst performing 10 percent?
Sarah Darer Littman and Susan Bigelow are contributing columnists and members of CTNewsJunkie’s Editorial Board. Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU. Bigelow is the former owner of CTLocalPolitics and an author. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.