New Teacher Center: College of Education. (Research Centers at the University of Memphis)

Article excerpt

A Promising Approach to Retain Teachers and Improve Quality

The College of Education at The University of Memphis is establishing a New Teacher Center (NTC) that will become operational in April 2003. The NTC will provide a model of support for new teachers that will lead to higher retention rates for new teachers, increased quality of teaching, and, in turn, higher student achievement. Establishment of the NTC is coming at a critical time in public education, especially with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The bipartisan passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 recognizes that American society requires public schools that work and requires highly qualified teachers in every classroom by the 2005-06 school year. But, we are now more than halfway to 2006 and America is still far from providing all children with highly qualified teachers. Like other similar parts of our country, the shortfall is particularly severe in West Tennessee urban, low-income communities and rural areas where inexperienced or underprepared teachers are too often concentrated in schools beset with difficult societal problems that make success difficult. Not only are students who need quality teaching paying an unacceptable price, but so are our local and state economies.

What Is "the Problem"?

In its 2003 bipartisan report No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America's Children, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF) challenges the conventional wisdom that American schools lack enough teachers to provide every American child with high quality teaching. The problem of supporting high quality teaching in many urban schools is not driven by too few teachers entering the profession, but by too many leaving it for other jobs. The report lays out extensive evidence that the real school staffing problem is teacher retention. In short, the ability to create and maintain a quality teaching and learning environment in urban and rural low-income schools is limited not so much by teacher supply, but by high turnover among the teachers who are already there.

The NCTAF report pulls no punches as it seeks to answer the question, "Why doesn't every child have quality teaching?"

In the mistaken belief that teacher supply is the core problem, quality teaching is too often compromised in an effort to recruit a sufficient quantity of teachers to fill classrooms. The results: standards for entry into the profession are lowered; quality teacher preparation is undercut; licensure becomes a bureaucratic barrier to be sidestepped, instead of a mark of quality; and the mythology that "anyone can teach" gains more ground with each fall's round of stopgap hiring. Today, thousands of unqualified individuals are in classrooms across the nation, hired because state laws and district policies are ignored in the name of meeting immediate needs of schools that appear to face "shortages." But the real problem is that these schools are unable to retain a sufficient number of teachers with the proper credentials. We have mistaken the symptom for the problem.

The Commission does not shrink from the commitment to recruit and prepare highly qualified teachers, but concludes that America cannot achieve quality teaching for all children unless those teachers can be kept in the classroom.

Not only is teacher retention a problem in West Tennessee schools, it is a national crisis; teacher turnover is now undermining teacher quality, and it is driving teacher shortages. In contrast to the superficial conclusion that growing student enrollment, smaller class sizes, and teacher retirement are the problem, the facts speak otherwise. Overall, the nation dramatically increased its teacher supply during the 1990s, and with the exception of mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual education, produces enough teachers to meet each year's new needs.

In spite of steady increases in the number of teachers entering the schools during the 1990s, the problem is that teacher attrition was increasing more rapidly. …