Here’s a disturbing article from EPI examining the trends in teacher training, experience and turnover between low-poverty schools and their high-poverty counterparts. The article both cites the current shortfall of teachers in American Classrooms and looks at which schools are most affected.
Strike One: Teachers are less prepared to teach
High-poverty schools have more non-credentialed teachers — people who are not fully certified to teach — and more teachers whose educational background did not prepare them for the main subject area they teach. They also have more teachers whose path to teaching was not a traditional teacher-training program at a 4-year college or university. The article doesn’t specify, but this likely means they became teachers via Teach for America or some other program.
Strike Two: Teachers are less experienced
High-poverty schools have higher proportions of teachers who are either novices with only 1-2 years experience, or in their early career years, meaning they have fewer than 5 years experience. So in communities where a large proportion of the students are dealing with the effects of poverty and therefore have greater educational needs, the teachers they encounter may be the least experienced at addressing those needs.
Strike Three: Teachers Don’t Stay
Attrition rates in high-poverty schools are considerably higher than those in low-poverty schools. And the teachers who leave tend to be the ones with more experience. Attrition has other repercussions as well: recruiting and hiring new teachers is costly and high turnover disrupts continuity in the classroom and results in more problems with retention and discipline.
The article cites a number of factors that are driving the shortage:
- Low teacher pay makes teaching less attractive as a career; this is even more of a problem in high-poverty schools where already underpaid teachers are paid even less as they are asked to do a job that is arguably made more difficult by the stresses of poverty.
- School climate makes for a stressful job environment that leads some teachers to pack it in. It goes without saying that those stressors are generally worse in high-poverty schools. In some schools, fear of violence is also a contributing factor to climate and, ultimately, to attrition.
- Teachers aren’t getting the training, early career support, and professional development opportunities they need to succeed. Again, this is especially a problem in high-poverty schools. It’s hard to feel like a valued professional in a sink-or-swim environment.
And I’ll add one of my own:
- Weakening the criteria for teacher certification contributes to de-professionalization, making teaching even less attractive as a career option. If the bar is so low that literally anyone can teach or enter teaching when all other options for them have failed, why would anyone want to do it? And why would we spend our very expensive university tuition on an educational training program when instead we can get into teaching with no training at all? I know this is often cited as a way for desperate states to get bodies into classrooms, but it’s rather a slap in the face to all those who did do a traditional program, and it makes it easier for districts to pay starting teachers even less. If the goal is better, more respected teachers, this is not the way to get there.
The contrast between this situation and the educational system in Finland couldn’t be starker. Next time, we’re going to do a deeper dive on what makes Finland’s educational system so successful.