Teachers Column

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Not only are the brightest college students shunning careers in teaching, but the most academically able of those in the profession are leaving it in disproportionate numbers.

This is the conclusion of a recent report by Phillip C. Schlechty and Victor S. Vance, two University of North Carolina researchers whose work was supported by the National Institute of Education.

As the basis for their analysis, the researchers used questionnaire responses gathered in 1979 from 4,416 students who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of 1972 High School Seniors and then went on to complete college.

Fifty-four percent of the 1,177 students who had become teachers by the time of the 1979 follow-up survey had verbal scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (sat) that fell into the bottom 40 percent of the sat scores of the 4,416 students in the 1972 survey. Only 24 percent of those who entered teaching had sat verbal scores that fell into the top 40 percent of the scores of those surveyed in 1972.

But Mr. Vance and Mr. Schlechty also found that "the higher one scores on measures of academic ability [standardized tests], the more likely one is to leave or anticipate leaving teaching." They add that this conclusion holds true regardless of race or sex.

For example, they found that one-third of those who became teachers and planned to continue teaching until at least age 30 had sat verbal scores that fell into the bottom 20 percent of the scores of the 4,416 students surveyed in 1972.

But, less than 5 percent of those surveyed in 1979 who said they planned to be teaching at age 30 ranked in the top 20 percent of the 1972 group in test scores.

(However, a study released late last year by Richard J. Murnane, an assistant professor of economics at Yale University, found that the "most productive" teachers--as measured by gains in their students' reading and mathematics scores and the evaluation of each teacher by his principal--in the urban school system of Hartford, Conn., remained in the classroom more years than their less effective colleagues.)

While acknowledging that "test scores may not predict how well one will do," Mr. Schlechty and Mr. Vance contend that it is legitimate to use sat scores to demonstrate that the most academically able teachers are abandoning the profession.

The primary conclusion they draw from their research is that "policymakers who fastened attention upon reforms in teacher education as a means of shaping, regulating, or controlling the characteristic qualities of the teaching corps may be taking an overly truncated view of the problem."

They suggest, in essence, that states must look beyond education-school admissions standards--recently revised in many states--as a way of improving the quality of instruction in elementary and secondary schools, and also consider ways to keep the most academically able teachers in the classroom.

The study also found that a disproportionate number of the students surveyed who became teachers were from rural and low socioeconomic backgrounds.

For example, 42 percent of the 3,239 students surveyed in 1972 who went to college but did not major in education or later teach were from small towns, farms, or rural areas. Among the 1,177 who did go into teaching, 53 percent had such backgrounds.

Those from rural and poorer backgrounds are also staying in the profession in greater numbers, according to the report.

Fifty-four percent of the teachers who are from low socioeconomic backgrounds planned to leave teaching by the time they are 30, Mr. Vance and Mr. Schlechty found. In contrast, the figure for those from affluent backgrounds is 65 percent.--tt

The nation's major teachers' organizations held their annual Fourth-of-July conventions on opposite sides of the country this year. Seven thousand National Education Association (nea) delegates gathered in Los Angeles, while 2,400 members of the American Federation of Teachers (aft) met in Manhattan.

The two unions, which have a long history of disagreements, issued a rare joint statement denouncing President Reagan's tuition tax-credit proposal. However, asked at the convention whether the joint release was a signal of harmony between the two unions, Terry Herndon, nea's executive director, responded, "I don't think it speaks to any profound change."

(Earlier this month there was evidence of the continuing animosity: The aft and about 10 afl-cio leaders blasted the nea for distributing fliers that imply the afl-cio is corrupt and greedy. Mr. Herndon apologized for the leaflet, used by the union's California affiliate in a membership campaign.)

While both groups' delegates took stands on instructional issues, the politics of education seemed to dominate the agenda of each convention--maybe too much so, for the delegates' taste. The nea delegates voted to consider political and national affairs at future conventions only after education issues have been taken up.

The nea, holding its 120th national convention, also announced its support for a bill now in Congress, called the American Defense Education Act, that would provide $4- billion to improve instruction in mathematics, science, computers, and foreign languages. And the delegates endorsed a series of measures intended to improve teacher education.

The nea convention had "Political Power for Educational Excellence" as its theme, and the addresses of the union's leadership were studded with political rhetoric and calls for the membership to organize at the grassroots level to defeat "New Right" political candidates.

"We are putting the far right on notice, here and now," said Willard McGuire, nea president, "that in this year's election and in 1984, we are going to put into place a pro-education Congress and a pro-education Administration. ... We are going to use our political clout--and it is strong--to make opposition to this entire assault on America's public education a key issue to those who would pull down public education in America."

The nea also vowed to work for a bilateral nuclear-weapons freeze, for the passage of a new equal-rights amendment for women, and against the Ku Klux Klan.

Across the country, the aft re-elected its president, Albert Shanker, to a fifth two-year term, released a report predicting that 55,500 teachers will be laid off before school opens, and, after an often-acrimonious debate, affirmed its support for laying off teachers strictly on the basis of seniority.

(The Boston Teachers Union, an aft affiliate, has asked the Supreme Court to relieve it of a lower-court order requiring that the Boston school system lay off white teachers with more seniority in order to maintain a teaching force that is at least 19-percent black.)

The 580,000-member, 64-year-old union also resolved to support research on effective teaching and vocational-education programs and called for more government support of special education.

As part of its political agenda, the aft released a "score card" in which members of the 97th Congress were graded according to aft standards on education-related bills.

Seventy-four House members, including five Democrats, and 32 Senators, all Republicans, earned scores of zero from the aft

Both conventions were addressed by liberal Democratic politicians. Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland delivered the keynote address before the aft, in which he excoriated the Reagan Administration's education policy. Edmund G. Brown Jr., governor of California, delivered a similar message to the nea

The shortage of teachers in Georgia, which hit a high of 7,000 vacancies in July 1980, will be considerably less acute this year. As of early August, state education officials anticipated they would need to fill fewer than 3,000 vacancies for the coming school year. At the same time last year, there were about 4,000 slots open.

The dramatic drop in the number of openings is probably due to several factors, according to Linda F. Jordan, the state's teacher recruiter. A generally poor economic climate makes teachers less likely to abandon their current jobs, and some positions have been eliminated entirely through budget cuts.

In addition, Ms. Jordan said, the state has concentrated on developing programs to provide teachers with more and better support.

Some of the efforts are designed to improve knowledge in a subject area; others help teachers to cope with common classroom problems, such as discipline. These programs, state officials hope, will gradually eliminate some of the reasons their teachers leave the classroom.

But vacancies remain, especially in rural areas and in the hard-to-fill fields of science, mathematics, and special education. The teachers who have applied to fill the positions come from all areas of the country; Ms. Jordan said she receives many telephone calls from teachers in the Northeast, as well as from Ohio, Michigan, and other states with particularly acute fiscal problems.

"The word is getting out to experienced teachers," she said, and many are willing to relocate in Georgia.

Vol. 01, Issue 40

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