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Clarifying Story On Teacher Attrition

To the Editor:

Your recent feature article "War of Attrition," (Sept. 16, 1998) raises important issues about the problem of teacher attrition in urban education. We are pleased that you have devoted attention to this important issue. I would like, however, to clear up three potential misimpressions that my remarks, as cited in the article, may have created.

First, while I do believe that all of America's school districts can benefit by having a diverse teaching corps, the data I was citing were that 90 percent of the nation's largest urban school districts had indicated an immediate demand for minority teachers in a survey that Recruiting New Teachers conducted with the Council of the Great City Schools in 1996. The sad fact is that 42 percent of all American schools have no minority teachers, and this in a period when our school-age population is becoming increasingly diverse. We believe that a diverse faculty enriches the curriculum, school climate, and the experiences of all students in a school.

The second potential misimpression is that Recruiting New Teachers Inc. is a national organization committed to bringing talented young people into the profession. We are an organization that seeks to raise esteem for teaching and encourage individuals of any age to pursue pathways into teaching. In fact, a large percentage of our respondents are potential midcareer job-changers.

Finally, faculty-attrition rates in urban schools are typically pegged at 30 percent to 50 percent over the first five years of teaching. In areas where shortages force districts to rely increasingly on emergency-permit holders, the percentage can rise even higher. However, as you point out, districts that have implemented thoughtful programs of new-teacher mentoring and support are successfully stanching the kind of revolving-door recruitment that plagues urban schools. Such programs hold the promise of both decreased attrition and improved classroom practice and deserve to be more widely adopted.

David Haselkorn
Recruiting New Teachers Inc.
Belmont, Mass.

Teachers Need More (Quality) Time

To the Editor:

We applaud Harold W. Stevenson's Commentary ("Guarding Teachers' Time," Sept. 16, 1998), and we agree that putting reforms into practice ultimately falls on teachers. In our study implementing standards with English-language learners, we found that most teachers were hungry for substantive interaction with colleagues. In one school, for example, teachers had only 20 minutes of common planning time per day--barely enough time to coordinate schedules and air problems.

However, it is not just a matter of adding more time to teachers' days. Teachers do not need more of the same: more time in meetings where they are talked at, or more time in professional-development settings that are planned without their input and delivered by outsiders. The issue is how teacher time is spent. Teachers need more collaborative and individual time to plan, implement and reflect on instruction, develop curricula, interact with students, and identify and solve educational problems. We found that interaction among English-as-a-second-language, bilingual, and content teachers through sustained and coherent professional development decreased teacher isolation, increased teachers' professional respect for one another, and focused their collective energy on teaching and learning.

Nancy Clair
Research Associate
Center for Resource Management
South Hampton, N.H.
Carolyn Temple Adger
Program Associate
Center for Applied Linguistics
Washington, D.C.

The writers are affiliated with the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Vol. 18, Issue 6, Page 41

Published in Print: October 7, 1998, as Letters to the Editor

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