Our nation's high-poverty, urban schools are in urgent need of dedicated and skilled teachers who are willing to commit to these schools long enough to make a significant difference in school quality and student performance. Although there is little disagreement about this need, there is much disagreement about how best to recruit, train, and most importantly retain teachers to effectively serve our nation's most underserved children (Darling-Hammond, 1999; Levine, 2006). Emergency credential policies and other teacher recruiting programs have been relatively successful in placing new teachers in urban schools. But are we really achieving a durable urban teaching corps, consisting of urban teachers whose classroom experience and expertise match their initial enthusiasm?
According to recent statistics, the answer is "no." A New York state study showed that across many dimensions of qualification, including experience level, "urban schools have teachers with lesser qualifications" (Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002, p. 44) and, furthermore, that "lesser-qualified teachers teach poor, nonwhite students" (p. 47). It is also the case that about 25% of our nation's teachers leave their classrooms after just 1 year, and almost half leave within 5 years (Henke, Chen, & Geis, 2000; Ingersoll, 2003). In high-poverty schools, teachers are 50% more likely to leave than in low-poverty schools (Ingersoll, 2003).
These statistics are particularly alarming because they lead to significant inequity in student achievement. We know that students achieve more if their teacher has had at least 3 years of experience, although the effect of experience levels off after the 5th year (Darling-Hammond, 1999; Johnson, Berg, & Donaldson, 2005). Sadly, our neediest students have little chance of being taught by teachers with 5 or more years of experience. As Ingersoll (2004) concludes, unequal access to experienced and highly qualified teachers is "a major factor in the stratification of educational opportunity" (p. 4).
Using beginning teacher survey data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), Ingersoll (2004) found that one of the primary reasons teachers reported leaving is job dissatisfaction, most often related to inadequate pay, inadequate support from school administration, intrusions on teaching time, discipline problems, and limited input into decision making. Ingersoll argues that schools must reorganize to better support and retain teachers.
In this article, we present a longitudinal (5-year) qualitative study of a group of beginning secondary English teachers who form a cohort in an MA/credential program organized to teach them how to teach in high-poverty, urban settings. We define high-poverty, urban schools as those with approximately 50% or more of the students on free or reduced lunch, located within a greater urban metropolitan area. The schools themselves may or may not be in the main city or cities within the area.
Although we found support for Ingersoll's conclusions, we also found that a teacher education program, with a focus on teaching in such settings, can find ways to support teachers through some of the difficulties they encounter. As we consider how to help increase the numbers who stay in these schools, we suggest adding targeted kinds of teacher education to Ingersoll's suggestion to strengthen the organizational structure of urban schooling. Indeed, our findings lead us to hypothesize that both focused teacher education and structural school reforms are critical to solving the teacher retention problems faced by such schools and thereby to improving educational opportunities for the students who attend them. The question we address in our research is, "What factors help teachers stay in urban teaching?"
Our data come from the Multicultural Urban Secondary English (MUSE) Credential and MA Program at the University of California, Berkeley. We chose to study graduates of the MUSE program because historically many of them choose to stay in urban teaching and because we have a wealth of longitudinal, qualitative data that allow us to construct a "thick" description of urban teachers who choose to stay. The first author established the program, is its faculty director, and teaches in it; the second author taught in the program for 1 year as a visiting professor. In some ways, then, this is a teacher-research study, although the second author is not fully an insider to the program. We acknowledge that we bring our biases to our analysis, although the data provide us with an opportunity to examine and reflect on them; furthermore, the second author's insider-outsider status offers both intimate knowledge of the program as well as some interpretive distance.
The stated goals of the program are (a) to provide novice teachers with a theoretical foundation for teaching in urban, multicultural settings, particularly focusing on social justice, cross-cultural communication, and adolescent development, and (b) to support novice teachers in learning the art and craft of teaching in these settings, particularly focusing on developing curriculum for teaching reading, writing, and literature and on understanding the needs of all students, especially including English language learners and speakers of varied, nonschooled dialects of English. (1)
In the 2-year MUSE program, students are eligible for a credential in secondary English at the end of their first year. During this year, they take a year-long methods seminar as well as a set of courses that prepare them for urban teaching, including urban education, second language methods, and language study for educators. For their student teaching, they are placed in two different secondary schools, one each semester and ideally one in a class with a high concentration of English language learners and a special focus on meeting these students' needs. Program faculty work hard to find strong placements, which include, most importantly, teachers who are selected for their excellent teaching, mentoring abilities, and professional leadership. Most fit these criteria, and many are consultants for the Bay Area Writing Project.
The second year of the program consists of one course, which supports the writing of an MA paper. The MA paper is a reflective piece of teacher research focusing on a problem the beginning teachers are facing in their classrooms or schools. At the end of the second year, upon successfully completing their teacher research papers and the course, they receive their MA degree. The goals of the MA year are to provide these first-year teachers with ongoing support for their classroom work, to teach them lifelong habits of reflection through their teacher research projects, and to position them to be future leaders in the profession. Ultimately, the MUSE program hopes to educate teachers and teacher leaders for teaching in urban, multicultural schools.
After receiving their MA, these early career teachers can apply to form a school-based teacher research group as part of a Berkeley-based, post-MA program. This program, Project IMPACT (Inquiry Making Progress Across Communities of Teachers), is funded externally. It allows more than one third of MUSE graduates to continue teacher research projects with colleagues at their schools and retain ongoing connections to Berkeley (see Curry, Jaxon, Russell, Callahan, & Bicais, 2008, for further information about Project IMPACT).
In the process of exploring what contributes to teachers staying, we found it useful to rethink the standard categories of what constitutes teacher retention. Most of the literature follows the categories used by NCES: (a) "stayers" who remain in the same school from 1 year to the next, (b) "movers" who leave their classroom for another, and (c) "leavers" who leave classroom teaching. We report our results using these categories, so that our study can be compared to others using these standard categories. However, the categories conflict with the stated goals of the MUSE program in two ways. First, MUSE aims to train both teachers and teacher leaders, some of whom might leave the classroom (see also Olsen & Anderson, 2007, for a discussion of this issue as it relates to the UCLA program that they study and for their argument for a new category of "shifters"). Second, MUSE hopes its graduates will stay in high-poverty, urban education. Thus, we needed a way to capture not just who stays in the classroom or even in education generally but who stays in urban education.
Thus, we report our results in two ways. First, in Table 1 in the "Findings" section, we use the NCES categories of "leavers," "movers," and "stayers." In Table 2 in the "Findings," we add subcategories that show those who, at the 5-year point, stay in urban education (in the same school, in another urban school, and in another position in urban education). In Table 3 in the "Findings" section, we recalculated the results to show the percentages of those who stay in or leave high-poverty, urban education. Our recalculated categories overlap partially with those of Olsen and Anderson (2007), whose "shifters" we count as "stayers" as long as they shift into another position in urban education. For those who leave urban education, even if they continue teaching, we created a new category of "drifters."
What We Know About Retention and Teacher Education Programs That Prepare Teachers for High-Poverty, Urban Schools
Little is known about effective programs for preparing teachers who stay in the profession, regardless of the type of school they choose. After reviewing the literature on the possible connections between types of teacher preparation and retention rates for teachers, Johnson et al. (2005) found few conclusive results. Most studies compare retention rates for alternative certification programs with those for traditional programs. However, the categories of alternative and traditional are imprecise, and their definitions varied from study to study. Thus, it was difficult to understand the findings. In other cases, the findings were inconsistent. For example, some studies found that content preparation in the form of an advanced degree was positively associated with retention; others found that it was negatively associated with retention.
Johnson et al. (2005) argue for additional research on how career decisions relate to teacher preparation programs. As one possibility for such research, they suggest studying "programs through preliminary case studies and then tracking graduates of these programs over time in order to identify …