High turnover in urban schools

The problem of high turnover in urban schools is reviewed by researchers at Cleveland State University who examine the relationship between poor academic performance in urban schools and the transience of students, teachers and principals.

Urban schools report levels of student mobility ranging from 40 to 80 percent annually. Previous research has established the negative effect of student mobility on academic performance. High student mobility means that teachers often are responsible for much larger numbers of students than the stated class-size limit. It is a constant challenge to integrate new students while keeping the rest of the class moving forward.

Teacher turnover is almost a third higher in urban schools than in other schools. In Philadelphia, a study found that after four years, 43 percent of teachers were no longer teaching in the city’s schools, while an additional 25 percent had moved between schools in the city.

New teachers inexperienced

New teachers in urban schools are significantly less experienced and less well-qualified than teachers in other schools. High-poverty school districts have a higher percentage of teachers with waivers for certification. When teacher turnover is high, there is little opportunity for developing supportive professional relationships among faculty members or for developing trust and understanding with students.

Turnover among principals is also higher in urban schools. Research has shown that principals’ leadership is crucial for academic improvement. Improvement takes years, and without stable educational leadership, schools don’t improve.

Successful urban schools need stable student and teacher populations and continuity of instructional leadership. To increase stability in urban schools, these researchers contend, new teachers and principals need mentors and peers who provide support and direction early in their careers. Increased salaries for starting teachers are needed to attract qualified teachers, and pay for principals must be commensurate with their long hours (often 60-80 per week).

Reciprocity of benefits and certification

Enhancing reciprocity of benefits and certification between adjoining states could enlarge the applicant pool of teachers and principals. Professional development opportunities specific to urban schools can help increase retention by reducing isolation and creating a more democratic, professional environment.

Slowing student transience involves convincing parents of the need for stability to ensure their child’s academic success. Parents are also less likely to move students if they feel connected to the school. Schools should require parents to sign in new students in person on their first day and to meet with the school counselor and their child’s teacher.

Providing new students with learning packets to help them catch up with the class’s work and establishing new-students’ groups than meet at lunch can help students make a successful transition to a new school. These researchers conclude that urban schools can improve the school environment and increase students’ achievement only when students, teachers and principals have the opportunity to form stable and productive relationships with one another.

“The Perfect Storm in Urban Schools: Student, Teacher, and Principal Transience,” ERS Spectrum, Volume 23, Number 2, Spring 2005, pp. 12-14.

Published in ERN September 2005 Volume 18 Number 6

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