NYC Teachers' Unexamined Exodus

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Ironically, while New York City spends millions of dollars paying allegedly abusive teachers to twiddle their thumbs in "rubber rooms," many of the Big Apple's more capable teachers keep flying out the door. Last year, 3,567 teachers quit, 936 more than the year before and 1,100 more than the average for the previous three years. The number of teachers who quit by their fourth year of teaching continues to hover around 44 percent.

Although school officials claim that improving teacher retention is a top priority, the head of the city's human resources department, Elizabeth Arons, admitted to The New York Times that her office doesn't bother to interview teachers to find out why they quit--which strikes us as a fairly basic "Management 101" step in figuring out how to deal with this staggering problem. Officials may think they already have a general sense as to why teachers leave, and that nothing they'll learn will change the revolving door--a deeply cynical view that should be unacceptable to any superintendent worth his (or her) salt.

There are at least two good reasons why New York City in particular should be paying close attention to why teachers leave particular schools. In the midst of highly acrimonious union negotiations, the city is allowing the local union to define for the public why teachers quit (here's a hint: think "salaries and funding"), and to use those reasons-accurate or not-to great political advantage at the bargaining table.

Secondly, New York (and all school districts, for that matter) needs to start holding individual schools and principals accountable for high teacher turnover rates. Tracking teacher attrition down should be every bit as important as annual student test scores. Teacher attrition is not so much a function of under-resourced schools as it is a symptom of principals who aren't adequately supporting their teachers. School districts ought to examine turnover figures broken down by school and the reasons for leaving on a monthly basis and encourage that such data drive decisions regarding school leadership.