In the Urban Crucible
By the time she reached 2nd grade, Erin Peacock, a student in the Chicago Public Schools, had been taught by more than a dozen teachers.
In kindergarten, she had two, says her mother, Marcella. Then in 1st grade, "everything was fairly normal'' until after Christmas vacation, when her regular teacher left for health reasons.
For the rest of the year, Erin experienced a string of long- and short-term substitutes. "From January until April, she had more than 10 teachers,'' says Ms. Peacock.
"It was a nightmare,'' adds Erin's father, Edward, an assistant principal in a Chicago public school. "First grade is a very important year, but she didn't learn anything at all. She got absolutely no education.''
Erin's parents took action--eventually transferring their daughter to another school with a more stable teaching staff. But for too many inner-city youngsters, their neighborhood schools are a trap.
During the course of their education, experts say, the cities' low-income and minority children are much more likely than their suburban counterparts to be taught by a string of young, inexperienced teachers; unlicensed individuals with no teacher training; teachers working out of their field of expertise; and full- and part-time substitutes, some of whom have the equivalent of a sophomore-year education in college.
This uneven distribution of qualified and experienced teachers across the nation's school districts may represent "the single greatest source of educational inequity'' in the United States, according to Linda Darling-Hammond, director of the education and human-resources program at the òáîä Corporation.
Although big-city school districts include many excellent teachers and schools, "as matters now stand,'' she says, "the students who most need the best teaching are least likely to get it.''
A 'Cumulative Harm'
The reasons are many, complicated, and interlocking.
In many instances, difficult working conditions, substandard facilities, low pay, negative publicity, and a desire to work closer to home all combine to drive teachers away from the inner city.
The tendency is for teachers with more experience and higher qualifications to gravitate to suburban districts or less demanding assignments in schools on the fringes of urban areas.
It is the teachers with less choice--those who are younger or only partially qualified--who often end up working in urban school systems.
There, seniority provisions in union contracts and other bureaucratic policies frequently operate to place these less experienced, less qualified teachers in the schools with the highest concentrations of poor and minority youngsters, where few others want to teach.
Without support from the school system, many of them quit within days, weeks, or months of being hired. Those who survive their first few years eventually try to move on to less demanding, more congenial teaching situations, like their colleagues before them.
The result is a perpetually unstable teaching force in the schools serving the nation's most disadvantaged youngsters--what one expert refers to as a constant "parade'' of instructors, some of them unqualified.
Although the severity of these problems varies from city to city--and some are not plagued by them--most experts agree that the general pattern holds true.
The schools that are "less desirable tend to be in the poverty areas in the cities, which are largely minority,'' acknowledges Asa Hilliard 3rd, professor of education at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "There's where you always see the highest rate of turnover in staff. And usually, the new teachers are the ones who are most likely to be placed in those locations.''
"I guess it's part of the way that schools have operated for a long period of time,'' he says.
Adds Peter Roos, co-director of Multicultural Training and Advocacy Inc.: "It is a sort of cumulative harm that is coming to kids who, the last thing they need, are all these hardships imposed upon them.''
Higher Pay, Better Climate: 'We Can't Match That'
Lower pay, fewer benefits, and less attractive working conditions in urban districts all make it harder for them to compete with more affluent districts for teachers.
"Where do the best teachers tend to go? They go to the best-paying schools with the best working conditions,'' says Samuel R. Billups, principal of Walbrook Senior High School in Baltimore, Md. "They don't necessarily want to come to the inner city.''
"Some of our good teachers come in and stay for a few years,'' he adds, "but if they can make several thousand dollars more in a nearby district, they'll go for it. We lost a math teacher a couple of years ago. He went to a neighboring school district where he made $5,000 more a year.''
Last year, a science teacher near the top of Detroit's salary schedule left his job to teach in nearby Southfield, Mich., where he could earn $11,000 more annually and have access to state-of-the-art classroom materials.
"We can't match that,'' says John M. Elliott, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. "We are losing some of the best and most experienced teachers to other districts.''
"The wealthier suburbs can pick and choose,'' he adds. "Money is not an issue for them.''
But in the financially strapped Detroit system, he says, "we are going to be looking for whatever we can get.''
Although many big-city school systems have been able to raise their teaching salaries over the past two decades, in other places large gaps between urban and suburban pay schedules remain.
Suburban Moorestown, N.J., for instance, has no difficulty attracting qualified teachers with at least a master's degree. In 1986-87, the starting salary in Moorestown was $19,550, more than $1,000 in excess of the state-mandated minimum. Teachers at the top end of the pay schedule could earn $42,841.
In addition, Moorestown pays its teachers to join professional organizations, subscribe to professional journals, and write textbooks or redesign courses over the summer.
By contrast, urban districts with lower tax bases--such as East Orange, New Brunswick, Paterson, and Jersey City, N.J.--have tremendous difficulty recruiting teachers. In 1985, East Orange's average teacher salary was $24,774. The average salaries in three nearby communities ranged from approximately $4,000 to $6,000 more per year.
"If we are going to redress the flow of teaching talent from the cities to the suburbs,'' warns Arthur E. Wise, director of the RAND Corporation's center for the study of the teaching profession, "we are going to have to see action by the states and the federal government--possibly pushed by the courts--to enhance the capacity of the cities to retain teachers. The resource base of cities must allow them to remain competitive.''
A Job With Multiple Stresses
But "probably as important or more important than money,'' argues Robert Wayne Johnson, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, is the attraction of a teaching job that "is not tremendously stressful.''
"That's the largest complaint we get from teachers,'' says Mr. Johnson, "'I can't teach. I have discipline problems. I can't get the materials I need. I have a principal who harasses me, and I have no say over anything.'''
Many inner-city schools are in disrepair; basic materials, such as Xerox paper and textbooks are in short supply; classrooms are often overcrowded; and safety, either in the area immediately surrounding the school, or in the school itself, is a major concern.
According to a survey by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, teachers in urban areas are three times as likely as their counterparts in non-urban districts to feel uninvolved in setting goals or selecting textbooks and materials.
They are twice as apt to feel they have no control over how classroom time is used or course content selected.
And they frequently have no permanent classroom, or even a desk, to call their own.
In addition, the challenges faced by many urban teachers may inevitably make such jobs more difficult than those in suburban districts.
"It's a whole new ball game,'' says Robert Kalinsky, principal of Douglass Elementary School in Dade County, Fla. Many of his school's students are recent immigrants, he says, do not speak English, come from neighborhoods with high crime rates, and return home to empty apartments at the end of the school day.
Half the urban high-school teachers surveyed by the Carnegie Foundation said neglected children are a problem. Thirty-seven percent described pupils' poor nourishment as a serious matter, and over 30 percent said poor health among children is a problem.
High mobility rates among students in some urban areas also make teaching difficult. A teacher who begins the year with 30 students, notes Thomas Payzant, superintendent of the San Diego Public Schools, may have taught 60 or 65 children by the end of the year, with only five members of the original class remaining.
"That's a very different challenge from being in a school where the 30 children who start with you are there at the end of the year to be promoted,'' he says.
"Teachers who have spent a lot of time in the inner city are dealing with a lot of difficult problems,'' Mr. Kalinsky asserts. "Their patience level leaves them after a while, and they need a new situation to be rejuvenated. That's one of the reasons why they opt out.''
A Negative 'Media Image'
But that pattern of "opting out'' simply feeds the negative cycle in which the city districts seem caught.
"One of the disincentives is the bad press given inner-city schools,'' says G. Pritchy Smith, chairperson of the division of curriculum and instruction at the University of North Florida. "That works on the perceptions of students and the public about how desirable teaching in those schools really is.''
Most media images presented of urban schools are negative, he says, including "searching students, discipline problems, overcrowded conditions, unequipped laboratories. I don't think that media image is true of all the urban schools.''
"Because of all the negative publicity that urban districts are receiving, teachers are not anxious to come into such systems,'' agrees Frank Napier Jr., superintendent of the Paterson, N.J., schools. "Replacing teachers has become a major problem. The younger teachers will look everywhere else and come to us as a last resort.''
Marilyn Moreheuser, a lawyer with the Education Law Center in New Jersey, also suggests that "a degree of racism'' is part of the reason that "teachers don't even think about going to inner-city schools.''
And that, she says, "combines with the perception that urban children are more difficult to deal with.''
For all of these reasons, many now argue that salaries in the urban districts must be higher than those in the surrounding suburbs, if they are to compete.
Even amid concerns about the need to attract and recruit more minorities into teaching, for example, schools in a number of urban districts are still trying to find enough white teachers to racially balance their staffs.
"White teachers only stay in the predominantly black schools until they can get placed elsewhere,'' alleges Cal A. Hunter, a black parent in New York City. "There is not a real willingness to relate to our children.''
'We Have To Take Anyone Who Comes Along'
Many urban systems begin each calendar year with a shortage of fully certified teachers. "In my 12 years as superintendent,'' says Mr. Napier of Paterson, N.J., "only four or five times have we been able to start the year with a full complement of teachers.''
When hiring standards are lowered, warns Mr. Wise of RAND, "it is the at-risk students who bear the burden. It is not the kids in the suburbs or the better parts of town.''
In 1983, the most recent year for which national information is available, shortages of teachers, as measured by unfilled vacancies, were three times greater in central cities than in rural areas or suburbs.
According to Ms. Hammond of RAND, more than 14 percent of all newly hired teachers in central-city school districts that year were uncertified in their principal field of assignment, a proportion nearly double that of other school districts.
In 1985, she says, 5,000 teachers were hired on emergency certificates in New York, Los Angeles, and Houston alone.
In 1987, in New York City, nearly one in five teachers did not have a full license, and nearly one in four taught subjects for which they were not certified, according to a study by the local Educational Priorities Panel.
Candidates who enter teaching through alternate routes, rather than through traditional teacher-education programs, may also be concentrated in urban areas.
In California, 80 percent of the teachers who have been prepared through an alternate route are employed in the Los Angeles Unified School District, says Ms. Hammond.
And in Camden, N.J., the director of personnel says he is anxious to hire alternate-route candidates, even though he lacks the resources to really train them.
The teacher shortage in urban areas is expected to worsen in the years ahead, even for districts that now have a relatively stable teaching population.
During the past decade, many cities in the Northeast and Midwest laid off young teachers because of budget crises and declining enrollments. Those cities now have a predominantly senior teaching force.
In Providence, R.I., a union official says, the entire teaching force will "turn over'' within the next 7 to 12 years. Similar demographic patterns exist in cities like Detroit, Washington, and Gary, Ind., promising a "tremendous level of turnover and hiring need'' in the near future, Ms. Hammond says.
"As the competition for teachers gets more keen,'' she asserts, "the cities that lost enrollment are going to have a bigger job of recruitment ahead of them than some of the other districts.''
That situation may become even more complicated as suburban districts--which are also losing staff members due to retirement--step up their efforts to recruit experienced teachers from urban areas. The consequence, one expert predicts, will be "bidding wars'' among districts for experienced teachers.
"What we are experiencing today is nothing compared to what lies ahead,'' says Ramsey Kounjian, director of personnel for New Jersey's Camden City School District, which just completed the entire school year with roughly 15 vacancies.
"From this point on, for the next four or five years, we expect a lot of teacher turnover,'' he says.
And as the demand picks up and the field of recruits narrows, some city districts will have to take what they can get. This is already the situation in a number of urban areas.
"We don't have the luxury of interviewing three or four candidates and selecting the one we think is best,'' says Mr. Kounjian. "We have to take just about anyone who comes along, unless there is some obvious condition we pick up in an interview that causes us to be suspicious of them. We just don't have the luxury of choosing who we want.''
Several years ago, California's Achievement Council looked at the average years of experience for teachers in predominantly minority and predominantly white schools. At the predominantly minority schools, the largest concentration of teachers had 0-3 years' experience. The next largest concentration of teachers in those schools had roughly 25 years' experience.
"You didn't have a reasonably balanced workforce,'' says Kati Haycock, executive director of the council. "You had very young, brand-new teachers and then quite old teachers.'' The suburban schools had a much "healthier'' curve, she says.
"Most teachers say that at least in the first two years you're not at full capacity as a teacher yet,'' Ms. Haycock notes. "And you're really still learning. So if, in fact, these kids are being taught by teachers with the least experience, it's a real mismatch.''
But that "mismatch'' is exactly what many experts say is occurring in schools with predominantly poor and minority students.
A study of New York City's teaching force by the Educational Priorities Panel found that "schools with high dropout rates and poverty levels, as well as those with low reading scores, tend to be unable to attract and retain experienced staff.'' Vacancies at these schools, the study revealed, were regularly filled with new teachers who had not yet been fully licensed and who held "temporary per diem'' certificates.
When the study ranked the city's elementary schools according to their reading scores, an average of 26 percent of the teachers in the worst-scoring schools held temporary certificates, compared with a citywide average of 18 percent. Junior-high and high-school data indicated similar correlations between poverty levels, student achievement, and percentages of unlicensed staff.
Schools in this situation are in a "double bind,'' according to the report. They are not attractive to new teachers--who leave as soon as they are able--"and their ensuing high turnover rates make a sustained school-improvement program difficult, if not impossible.''
In Chicago, a study by the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance found that the teachers with the highest level of experience staffed the elementary schools with the smallest number of low-income students, the best reading scores, and the fewest overage students.
"The panel does not endorse the assumption that more years of experience is necessarily the same as higher faculty quality,'' the report notes, suggesting that more experienced teachers may be drawn to schools that are already academically superior, rather than creating such schools.
"However, it would appear that the presence of more experienced teachers then supported the better performance of these schools,'' the report adds, "creating a reinforcing cycle of desirability and differential performance.''
A school-finance lawsuit filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District argues that disparities in the distribution of instructional staff within the school system contribute to the inequitable education received by low-income and minority students.
The lawsuit, brought by parents and taxpayers, alleges that schools with predominantly black, Hispanic, and Asian students "are disproportionately staffed by teachers who are less experienced, have less training, have not acquired teaching credentials, and are more likely to be substitutes than are those schools which are disproportionately white.'' The same disparities exist between schools serving poorer and wealthier students, the suit asserts.
Even within schools, argues Ms. Hammond of RAND, "good teaching is often distributed unequally.''
"The experienced teachers, who are in great demand, are rewarded with opportunities to teach the kids who already know a lot,'' she asserts. "New teachers too often get assigned to the kids and the classes that nobody else wants to teach, which leaves them practicing on the students who would benefit most from the skills of expert, experienced teachers.''
'Beginning Teachers Get The Worst Assignments'
Several systemic factors contribute to the experience-inexperience imbalance.
Managing the large number of teachers who flow in and out of city school systems is such a monumental task that bureaucratic problems in and of themselves make the efficient and timely placement of new teachers difficult.
Many school districts delay hiring or assigning new teachers until all of their current staff members are placed for the coming year. While that lengthy process is going on, they may end up losing the most attractive job candidates to other districts, according to RAND officials.
In big-city school systems, says Deborah Meier, director of the Central Park East Secondary School in New York City, new teachers "don't get hired until the last moment. They don't know where they'll be teaching at all until September.''
In addition, she says, they are often hired by the central office rather than by the principal--so that there is no "match'' between the teacher and the school. And if enrollments drop early in the year, these new teachers are also the first to be fired, transferred to another setting, or dropped onto the list of full-time substitutes.
One first-year teacher in Baltimore says he did not learn of his assignment until 10:30 P.M. the night before the school year began. Teachers in other districts report similar experiences.
"This is how it really works,'' says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association. "What happens is that schedules are made out. If you are there, you can claim a schedule. You have the first crack at which building you teach in and the schedule in that building you want. After that, the district and the school are left with the openings nobody selected. And you have schedules that nobody claimed. Who gets them? Whoever is hired after that process--the unborn, so to speak, those who are not yet with us.''
"So here comes a kid from a teachers' college, scared to death as it is, and he or she is forced to run the gauntlet,'' says Mr. Urbanski. "It is almost like fraternity initiation. Beginning teachers get the worst assignments.''
"If anybody tells you otherwise,'' he adds, "go get a second opinion.''
In many districts, the ability of experienced teachers to move to more desirable schools is reinforced by longstanding traditions that give senior teachers priority in filling vacancies. These work rules--often referred to as "seniority transfer provisions''--have, in many instances, been incorporated into union contracts as one of the primary benefits available to veteran teachers.
The seniority system dictates that "you constantly have a replacement factor loyer the more prerogatives you should gain.''
Although seniority transfer rights in and of themselves do not create inequities within school systems, notes Ms. Hammond, they "exacerbate or feed into'' a situation where there is little support for teachers and few incentives for good teaching beyond higher pay and easier assignments.
To abolish seniority transfer provisions without providing additional incentives to keep people in the profession, she warns, could simply accelerate attrition.
'Half' Will Be Gone
Nationally, attrition rates for new teachers average between 40 and 50 percent over their first five years of employment. But in many urban areas, losses are even sharper.
In New York City, for example, the city's comptroller found that one out of eight new teachers quits after having served less than a year.
And in Miami, "teachers who come and fill the vacancies do not stay here, for whatever reasons,'' says Charlie Williams Jr., principal of the Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School there. "Some come and spend as little as two hours and walk away. Others spend as little as a day and walk away. And some spend a month, or a semester, or a year, and then they leave.''
Says Mr. Johnson of the Los Angeles teachers' union, "In some of our inner-city schools, the turnover of teachers is just incredible. You'll have 40 or 50 percent turnover in one year.''
"I was at a school a few weeks ago,'' he says. "There were about 30 or 35 teachers in the room. And one of the veteran teachers I've known for a while said to me, 'Look around. It's now May. Come September, half of these people won't be here.'''
"If you have this constant turnover of teachers, with a very high percentage of new teachers,'' he says, "the quality of education you offer is just not going to be as high. It affects morale.''
'The System Is Not Welcoming and Hospitable'
At a minimum, the new teacher in such a climate requires extra support and assistance, experts say, but all too often it is unavailable or limited.
"The induction process in school districts is almost nil,'' says Jose Rosario, an associate professor of education at Indiana University Northwest. "School districts haven't really developed a system for socializing teachers into the profession.''
In fact, new teachers typically are ignored on all fronts, contends Fran Bolin, director of the preservice program in childhood education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
"The university just abandons them, and the school system abandons them,'' she says. "The system is not really welcoming and hospitable to new teachers.''
One beginning teacher, she recounts, "walked in, was given the keys, and sent off to the classroom, only to find it full of trash. There were no materials--not even a stick of chalk. She asked for materials and was told there just weren't any. She went out and used her credit card and spent $400 on supplies. Kids found all these neat things, and pocketed them. I have had at least one or two students go through this kind of experience each fall.''
Of the 10 graduates of Ms. Bolin's elementary-education program who entered the New York City Public Schools last September, three had left their jobs by Christmas.
Four others had what she describes as "really rough'' experiences but stayed on the job; only three had adequate support, she says.
Of the eight students, including Beth J. Fuqua, who are still in the schools, all are subject to being bumped from their current positions before the beginning of next year.
Defections notwithstanding, some principals say they like new teachers because they are enthusiastic, come in with fresh ideas, and are eager to learn.
"New teachers have not developed habits that are unusable in this teaching setting,'' says Sylvia L. Peters, principal of the Alexandre Dumas Elementary School in Chicago. "I need people who are willing to change and willing to try new things with children. Many experienced teachers just do not believe our children can learn.''
But principals also admit that it takes time and effort on their part to bring novice teachers up to speed.
Some principals say they hold orientation sessions and create "buddy systems'' within their schools to help new teachers adjust, and to match them up with more experienced veterans. But that is not always easy, they say.
"It's difficult for a principal to motivate teachers--experienced or not--to go in there and do battle every day,'' says Leonard Dominguez, principal of Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago. "It's tough for a principal to find time to work with the rookie teachers. There are always so many emergencies coming up.''
As a result, says Nina Greenburg, elementary-school vice president for the Los Angeles teachers' union, novice teachers "often are not given the proper support that they need.''
"Although we certainly try, time is limited,'' she says. "We have our own classes, our own responsibilities.''
In some places, the problems faced by novice teachers are further aggravated by peculiarities in their districts' licensing and placement procedures.
In urban areas with an aging teaching force and few openings, for instance, many new teachers first enter the system as full-time substitutes and are bounced around from school to school and from classroom to classroom. "You get socialized into the system in the very worst way,'' says one educator.
In New York City, most new teachers now enter the system on a "temporary per diem'' certificate, without being fully licensed. Some are qualified but are prevented from receiving a license immediately, often because the city requires them to take specialty examinations that are only offered on a periodic basis.
And even after they have taken the tests, new teachers may continue to hold temporary certificates for more than two years because of delays in the grading and processing of their applications.
But the biggest group of temporary-certificate holders, according to Robin Willner of the city's Educational Priorities Panel, are individuals with no formal teacher training and no previous experience.
"They know their field,'' she says, "but they've never taught before and they don't have the teaching requirements.''
About 85 percent of new teachers now enter the system with such temporary licenses, according to Ms. Willner's group. They receive limited benefits and earn a lower salary.
In fact, the positions that many of these teachers hold are officially considered "vacancies.'' At the end of each year, such new recruits may be displaced by more senior teachers or by those who have just received their licenses.
As a new teacher, says Ms. Meier of Central Park East Secondary School, "you have no right to the job that you hold--even if you've had that temporary position for two or three years and are considered a part of the team.''
Chicago: Constant 'Bumping'
In Chicago, many educators charge, the situation is even worse.
Because of the district's peculiar licensing procedures, most new teachers enter the public schools as "full time basis'' substitutes. As such, they have no due-process rights and can be removed from their jobs during at least two periods in the school year if a more senior teacher asks for their position.
This process, known as "bumping,'' occurs on an almost constant basis, according to a recent expose on the school system in the Chicago Tribune.
"Because of seniority provisions,'' the Tribune reports, "the elimination of just one position held by a person with a teaching certificate--even working in the central office--might affect dozens of teachers and hundreds of students. This is due to the trickle-down process that occurs as those with more experience take the classrooms of those with less, until the newest teachers are pushed out of work or into the substitute pool.''
As jobs in the system are added or eliminated due to fluctuations in student enrollments, the instability in the teaching force mounts. In February, the newspaper reported, "154 new teachers were hired, and 38 substitutes were given new classrooms, meaning that at least 5,760 children got new teachers at midyear.''
When Ms. Peters, the Chicago principal, arrived at her all-black elementary school in 1984, "there was so little support among the staff for new people that they would just leave,'' she says. "Lots of people were waiting for full certification and doing full-time subbing. This often was their first or second assignment.''
"It was just a revolving door,'' Ms. Peters recalls, noting that 14 of her teachers that first year were long-term substitutes.
"Some classes may have had as many as five teachers in one year,'' she says. "People were just floating in and out of the school. I couldn't believe it.''
"When this type of thing happens,'' she adds, "there is no education. There are some children in this school system who have never had a year with just one teacher. That is devastating.''
'A Breathing Body In All Those Classrooms'
When teachers leave--or are absent on any given day--inner-city schools scramble for substitutes.
According to testimony gathered for a school-finance suit in New Jersey, Paterson at one time had at least 120 teachers absent daily, but the district could only attract 8 to 10 substitutes a day.
In 1984-85, the city attempted to cover its bases by hiring 68 permanent substitutes and assigning at least two to each elementary school and four to each high school. By November, however, those teachers had to fill jobs vacated by full-time teachers, and so the substitute problem persisted.
Paterson--like other urban areas--has increased its per diem salary for substitutes but still cannot recruit enough. And while the substitutes it has found meet minimum state requirements, many have not completed college.
"We have to use teachers who sometimes do not have college degrees,'' says Mr. Napier, superintendent of the school system. "I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't. I need to have the classes covered, but then the state accuses us of not having fully certified teachers.''
"Some mornings,'' he adds, "we wake up and just hope we have a breathing body in all those classrooms.''
When substitutes are unavailable, educators say, students are shared among other teachers' classrooms; or other staff members, such as librarians or speech therapists, are taken off of their jobs to substitute; or teacherless classes are put in the auditorium and made to watch films.
In Chicago, an average of 77.5 percent of the classes between 1980 and 1983 that needed substitutes got them, according to a study by the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance. But in up to 35 percent of the schools studied, the coverage rate was lower than 60 percent. And the problems of providing substitutes were worst in those schools with the highest number of low-income students.
The study also found that half the teacher absences of more than one day were covered by more than one substitute teacher.
One Chicago principal, who says that finding substitutes is her "major problem,'' notes that half of her substitute coverage is provided by specialists within the school.
"On a daily basis, we have to stop our special programs to man classes,'' she says. "Librarians, gym teachers, counselors just know that they have to do it.''
"If I get one substitute to come, I tell them to come back each morning,'' the principal says. "It's not the way the system is supposed to work. Sometimes the central office gets nasty about it, but I just tell them I have a school to run.''
Hanging on to 'Super Subs'
Many principals try to get around such problems by recruiting their own small pool of committed substitute teachers--a policy that school districts like Los Angeles have institutionalized.
"Clever administrators,'' says Gene McCallum, principal of Audubon Junior High School in Los Angeles, "keep strong substitutes who are willing to fulfill the 20-day vacancy in any position. That's how I work here. I have a list of super subs. In Los Angeles, we have what is known as a 'preferred substitute list,' and these are the people I use to fill vacancies.''
In Dade County, Fla., hard-to-staff schools share substitutes who report to the schools each day. But even that may prove inadequate when six or seven teachers are absent on a given day, one principal notes.
The lack of substitute teachers, high teacher turnover, and other factors that lead to instability among staff members, all work to the detriment of students.
"All these factors tend to lower achievement levels and motivation, and I think these two things go hand-in-hand,'' says Mr. Dominguez of the Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago. "The kids begin to feel like no one cares, so they stop caring. It goes along with their view of life, in general--that they are on their own, both at home and on the street, and then at school.''
Seeking Ways To Make The Exception the Rule
Where individual inner-city schools have been able to recruit and maintain a highly qualified staff, both teachers and administrators attribute it primarily to the vision and commitment of the school's leader.
Again and again, principals describe valiant efforts to preserve and improve their schools against seemingly insurmountable odds. Many have designed their own recruitment efforts, created their own support programs for new teachers, and demanded top-flight performance from both students and staff.
In such environments, both principals and teachers report, students are learning and staff turnover is low.
"So much of what people say about inner-city schools is not true,'' notes one Chicago principal. "There are a lot of good neighborhood schools in Chicago. We are a well-kept secret.''
In some places, district administrators and union officials are also making a concerted effort to attract, recruit, and retain qualified teachers for inner-city schools.
Their efforts include: "mentor teacher'' programs that provide novice teachers with support and guidance; career ladders that require the most experienced teachers to work in the most challenging situations; financial incentives for teachers who agree to work in specific locations; and inventive efforts to "grow'' their own future teachers, either by recruiting students while they are still in high school, or by creating special training and scholarship programs for teachers' aides, full-time substitutes, and others who make a commitment to work in urban areas.
Among such efforts are these:
- Dade County, Fla., provides a stipend for teachers who agree to work in "high priority'' locations, with large numbers of low-income children. These teachers can earn an additional $500 their first year, up to a total of $2,000 for each year they stay in that school.
Under a cooperative program developed with Florida International University and the United Teachers of Dade, the district will also pay the tuition of teachers who agree to pursue a master's degree in urban education. The credits earned through this program can raise a teacher's salary by as much as $3,000.
In addition, if participants meet all of the program's requirements, they receive an additional $1,000 stipend. Teachers who participate in the program must agree to teach in a selected Chapter 1 school for at least three years.
A new program, in cooperation with the University of Miami, will allow teachers to pursue a master's or doctoral degree at the district's expense if they agree to transfer to a school in which their race is in the minority and remain there for five years.
The district also has a mentor program for new teachers and a teacher-education center where all teachers can go to upgrade their skills and expertise.
- The new union contract in Rochester, N.Y., combines a career ladder with a mentor-teacher program, both of which are designed to improve the education of inner-city youngsters.
Teachers at the top rung of the ladder will eventually earn up to $70,000 per year. In exchange, they must agree to teach wherever they are needed, including assignments in some of the district's toughest schools. These educators will also serve as advisers to new teachers coming into the system.
In addition, teachers in Rochester have agreed to exchange their seniority transfer rights for a strong voice in selecting the staff at their schools and in determining how the schools are run.
- Several districts--ranging from Jefferson County, Ky., to Columbus, Ohio--are also trying to develop "professional development schools'' for teachers. These special training sites for novice educators would provide a highly structured induction process that exposes young teachers to the best in instructional knowledge and practice.
"One of our strong proposals is for the creation of professional-development schools'' in inner-city neighborhoods, says Mr. Wise of RAND.
"Take these high-turnover schools and turn them into places where novice teachers will be specially prepared under the supervision of experienced practitioners. Make these schools the kind into which the best teachers in the system will be drawn.''
- Several years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District created a "priority staffing program'' that provides $2,000-a-year stipends for bilingual teachers and those in selected inner-city schools, who work an extra half-hour each day tutoring students. In addition, the district overhauled its personnel division to make it more accessible to prospective recruits.
The district has also created a teacher-support program for novices and an alternate-route program that provides intensive, but short-term, training to individuals who come into the district without any formal teacher education.
- Proposed legislation in Illinois would, after the current union contract expires, eliminate seniority as the sole consideration in determining teaching assignments in Chicago and give principals a greater say in selecting their staff.
The Chicago Teachers Union has released its own reform agenda, including a plan to limit the 'bumping' process and to institute school-based management in some sites.
- Several urban universities, including Queens College and Teachers College in New York City and the University of Illinois at Chicago, have created support groups and hotlines for first-year teachers, or are planning to do so.
But in the long run, many who are concerned about the urban situation warn, the systems will not attract or retain highly qualified individuals until there are more inner-city schools that are conducive to the education of both teachers and students.
District officials need to take the list of schools that are having trouble attracting teachers and find out the reason, argues Ms. Willner of the Educational Priorities Panel. Then they should devise a recruitment plan for each school.
That will probably be a school-improvement plan, she says, because "in most cases, the reasons teachers don't want to be there are the same reasons that kids don't want to be there.''
"One of the reasons urban students are not excited about the prospect of becoming teachers,'' adds Ms. Hatton of the Ford Foundation, "is because they see the worst teaching conditions in the country in the schools they attend.''
"Who would want to be one of these people, who doesn't get paid very much, who does all kinds of nonteaching duties, and who is not very successful with his or her students?''
Says Ms. Meier, director of Central Park East Secondary School in New York City: "If schools are truly depressing places to teach--with high rates of vandalism, great anonymity, lots of turnover, lots of absenteeism, and very little support--they are truly not going to be places where people want to work, and you can't make people do it.''
"There have to be other things that we think about that can make these communities desirable to teach in,'' she adds. "Teaching 'at risk' kids doesn't have to be an unpleasant occupation.''