Bell rings on another school year

The Baltimore Sun

Teacher turnover costs the nation's public school systems about $7.3 billion annually - including $19 million in Baltimore alone, according to a report released yesterday by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

The lost money represents the costs incurred by school systems that must replace teachers after paying to recruit and train them.

The report estimates that the national teacher turnover rate is 12.5 percent, a number obtained by tracking the number of teachers who left their school districts between the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 school years, said Ben Schaefer, a program manager at the commission.

Baltimore school officials declined to comment on the report yesterday and did not provide information about the system's teacher turnover rate.

"There is a problem with teacher turnover in Baltimore, that's obvious, and there has been for a while," said Baltimore Teachers Union spokesman David Barney. The system's lack of resources and safety concerns have triggered a "mass exodus" of teachers from the city schools, he added, noting that teachers who remain behind are frustrated.

As city teachers bolt from the city school system, others "are being asked to fill vacancies where they have no expertise," Barney said, adding:

"If I can go to Baltimore County, if I could go to Montgomery County, Howard County, and make more money with less headache, I would make a mass exodus as well."

Barney did not know of any initiatives in place to increase teacher retention, but he said he is waiting to see what the school system's incoming chief executive officer, Andres Alonso, will do.

Solving the problem, Barney said, is "plain and simple: Pay our teachers."

The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future is a nonprofit group that conducts research and outreach efforts to improve teacher quality and retention.

The commission has been trying to draw attention to the national problem of teacher turnover since its 2003 report No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America's Children, which called the national teacher turnoverrate a "crisis."

Turnover has been getting worse every year since the late 1980s, Schaefer said, because the classroom does not appeal to a more technologically-savvy generation that prefers to work on collaborative projects.

Women, who traditionally were limited to teaching and nursing, have increasingly begun to choose other professions as well, Schaefer said.

According to a U.S. Department of Education report, during the 2003-2004 school year, 332,700 teachers quit the classroom, 245,429 left for other pursuits and 88,271 retired.

"Bright young teachers are leaving at an unsustainable rate," the report noted.

Teachers are leaving in such high numbers because of poor teaching conditions and unreasonable workloads, said Tom Carroll, the commission's president.

And many school districts, thinking that the problem lies in lack of supply alone, are doing nothing to improve teacher retention, he said.

"They get themselves caught in an endless cycle of hiring, recruiting and replacement," Carroll said. "As they are, it's like a bucket with a hole in the bottom."

To reduce the cost of teacher turnover, the commission recommended that districts track those costs, something Carroll said he has not found any district doing comprehensively.

Districts must also invest in a well-designed support system for new teachers, the commission recommended, which should contain more than just one more experienced "mentor" teacher. Districts that have done those things have started to retain teachers at a higher rate, Carroll said.

"We can turn this problem around fairly quickly," he said.

To collect the data, the commission focused on five districts, ranging in size from urban Chicago to two rural districts in New Mexico, between the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 school years.

The commission tracked the costs of recruiting, hiring, processing and training new teachers, as well as the administrative costs and pay for substitute teachers after a teacher quits.

The commission estimated the number of teachers leaving Baltimore by applying the national turnover average to the number of teachers in the city.

"This is an estimate, and what we want is for school districts to figure it out using the data that they have," Schaefer said.

The estimated yearly cost of teacher turnover for Prince George's County exceeded $23 million, and Washington estimate exceeded $16 million.

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