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UFT’s Compelling Findings on Teacher Turnover Undercut “Reform” Underperformance Theory

September 21, 2015

The “reformers” believe that “underperforming schools” are the result “underperforming teachers” and consequently recommend that those “poor teachers” be replaced. In a NYDaily News op ed column published today, Michael Mulgrew, the UFT NYC President, offers compelling evidence that the replacement of teachers will not solve the problem. Why? Because in many the so-called “failing schools” have massive turnover to begin with:

A UFT review of personnel records at these (failing) schools (the state’s technical term for the list they’re on is “out-of-time”) tells a radically different story from that being told by the “reformers” — a story of how hundreds of teachers despair of helping kids in poorly managed and under-resourced schools, and who ultimately, battered by the arduous process, choose to move on to other schools or other lives.

Our review shows that 64% — nearly two-thirds — of the 921 teachers on staff at these eight “out-of-time” schools in 2010 have already bailed out. Almost half of those who left — 45% — went to other schools in the system. About 23% retired. And 21% resigned, heading for different school systems or different careers entirely. Disability, death and other reasons accounted for the balance.

Some schools have had the door revolve even faster. Fordham Leadership has only nine of the 46 teachers who were there in 2010. Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx has only two of the nearly 40 teachers who were there in 2010. Excluding those two hardy veterans, the Banana Kelly staff has been wholly replaced not once, but twice, in the last five years — a turnover rate of nearly 200%.

If the reformers notion that wholesale replacement of teachers would lead to improvement was valid, why did these schools that replaced 2/3 of their staff not improve? Mulgrew’s data suggests the real problem is not that the teachers are poor— after all nearly 1/3 of the teachers from the “failing schools” transferred to other presumably “successful” schools in the district. Mulgrew concludes that what is needed is more support for those schools in the form of stability, specialized curricula, and expanded services of the kind advocated by the mayor. He concludes his essay with this:

The problems of the city’s struggling schools can be solved by real strategies, but not by political sloganeering. “Get tough on teachers” may warm the hearts of “reformers,” but it is a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.

I hope that some of the “tough” Governors running for President who tout “evidence based decision making–  like Walker, Christie, Kasich, and Bush– take a look at Mulgrew’s evidence and take it to heart when they formulate their ideas on education. It would also help if Congress looked at this as well… but I expect the test-and-punish paradigm will remain in place.

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