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, …