Saturday, September 18, 2021

It’s a struggle to retain new teachers, say teachers


A news report on Maryland says Maryland, like many states, “struggles to curb teacher turnover, especially in the most disadvantaged areas” and that “lack of administrative support is one of the primary causes of high turnover and discourages teachers from continuing on in the profession.”

Not only are reports of schools “struggling” to curb teacher turnover a slippery slope toward instilling fear among parents that schools are losing control of their employees, but the labeling of the problem as severe or comparing the depth of the problem in Maryland to other states or to the national average is an opinion, based on the assumption that the statistics used measure what they purport to measure. Those stats are reported inadequately here as absolute when they’re really relative and based largely on invalid comparisons among states.

Any correlations detected in statistics like this may be completely spurious, and attributing any single “cause” or even a bouquet of causes to the rate of teacher turnover misrepresents the problem and reports as news, in a report that I would call “statistics run amok,” something that is commonplace. No comparison is offered to the turnover rates in other professions or in different times on any kind of trend line. As a result, the claim that teacher turnover is “high” in Maryland is presented without any useful or actionable comparison.

Not news

Finally, turnover in service professions is not news, and we simply carry this story because it was reported as news. In 1990, for example, the Vermont Criminal Justice Center examined the turnover of municipal police officers in that state. Furthermore, published scientific research going back to the 1980s suggests that turnover can be a positive force for an organization.

“Organizations can benefit from turnover by replacing poor performers, hiring more knowledgeable people, stimulating change, providing increased opportunities of mobility for present employees, increasing the flexibility of the organization, reducing costs, consolidating jobs, and reducing employee conflict,” the center writes.

The report on Maryland fails to balance the goals of teachers’ unions with the goals of our students. It is just as likely that turnover can be harnessed to serve the needs of our students and communities as it is that turnover is a negative force that needs to be reduced. And that side of the story is completely absent here.

Schools—even Maryland’s best schools—have been constantly addressing teacher turnover for decade after decade, of course, something you would never know from this news report. And they’re getting better at it, too, thanks to assistance from other members of the community, like state Senator Paul Pinsky, a Democrat from Prince George’s County. Mr Pinksy sponsored a new state law that created a pilot program this year, hoping to give first-year teachers more in-classroom mentoring, peer observation, and other help new teachers need.

So because these efforts can always be improved, news organizations and teachers’ unions will continue to write and speak about the suffering the teaching profession goes through. To put this in a broader context, turnover among police officers tends to be higher in urban areas than it is in suburban areas too. Some of that turnover may result from police officers finding more fruitful employment, but some of it also results from injury or death to our brave service professionals.

Although it’s hard not to support efforts to improve the quality of teaching—and experience helps with that, to a large extent—making retention the goal is off the mark and out of touch with the rest of the world and with how organizations truly improve the quality of the product or services they provide.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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