the hidden costs of reform?

The contemporary rhetoric of education reform says that a new emphasis on “results” – defined chiefly by student standardized test scores – will help school administrators improve performance by rewarding effective and rooting out ineffective teachers. In other words, teacher turnover improves performance by removing the deadweight. What happened to the value of experience? Mark Simon points to recent study, “How teacher turnover harms student achievement,” linking teacher turnover to reduced test scores in math and English among 4th and 5th graders in the New York City public schools particularly among low-performing and minority students. Simon writes:

Turnover affects morale and the professional culture at a school. It weakens the knowledge base of the staff about students and the community. It weakens collegiality, professional support and trust that teachers depend on in their efforts to improve achievement.

As a DC Public School parent and a former high school teacher, Simon has seen up-close the consequences of the relentless reform pressures in DCPS. He writes:

DCPS has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the nation….55 percent of new teachers leave in their first two years, according to an analysis by DCPS budget watchdog Mary Levy. Eighty percent are gone by the end of their sixth year. That means that most of the teachers brought in during the past five years are no longer there. By comparison, in Montgomery County just 11.5 percent leave by the end of their second year, and 30 percent by the end of year five. DCPS has become a teacher turnover factory. It has a hard time keeping teachers who are committed to their school and the community it serves.

It’s a lesson learned over and over again among students of public sector performance – and, indeed, by students of performance measurement across sectors. Almost four decades ago, Steven Kerr’s classic article called it, “the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B.”  How about rewarding principals for RETAINING excellent teachers!

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