Teachers new to Chicago Public Schools are leaving the system at a higher rate than they were 10 years ago, according to a Catalyst analysis of School Board data.

The increase comes at a time when schools are under increasing pressure to improve test scores and as the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement.

“Obviously we are looking at this long-term trend and trying to do specific things about it to address this issue,” says Schools CEO Arne Duncan. “We’ve recruited a high number of [high] caliber teachers. But if we don’t understand the importance of the retention side, we’re kidding ourselves.”

The Catalyst analysis found that 39 percent of teachers hired in 1998-99 left within five years, compared to 28 percent of teachers hired in 1993-94.

The increase was even more dramatic for teachers leaving within two years of being hired. Of the 2,475 teachers hired in 2001-02, 31 percent had left after a couple years. Of those hired in 1996-97, only 18 percent were gone within two years.

“I don’t know why,” says Ascencion Juarez, CPS’s chief officer of human resources. “It could be any one of a number of reasons.”

“I’m speechless,” says Allen Bearden, director of the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center. “This means we need to look at the induction procedures and see if we need to provide different kinds of support.”

The most recent study of teachers’ attitudes about Chicago’s public schools may offer insight.

Conducted biannually by the Consortium for Chicago School Research, the survey of 12,000 CPS teachers measures their level of trust and sense of shared leadership with principals, their commitment to schools, and their influence in curriculum decisions.

Between 1999 and 2001, those measures of teacher climate—which had been stable since 1994—declined, says Sue Sporte, the researcher who conducted the survey.

Sporte speculates that the new accountability policies, such as probation and intervention, may have something to do with the higher rate of new teacher attrition. “It sometimes takes time for the downside of these things to become apparent.”

Another researcher, who was recently commissioned by the Chicago Teachers Union to study CPS teacher attrition, says CATALYST’s analysis bears out the findings of his report. “The organizational situation in schools is bad,” says Robert Bruno of the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Teachers don’t feel supported by principals or feel the environment is conducive to their professional development.”

Bruno surveyed 3,706 teachers who left the system between 1991 and 2002, not counting retirements; 371 responded. Survey respondents tended to be older, more experienced teachers—the average age was 33 and 62 percent had master’s degrees—who continued to teach after leaving CPS.

Teachers cited such problems as student behavior, a lack of principal support, poor parental involvement and inadequate salary.

At the time, CTU President Deborah Lynch said the union would develop a training program for members who sit on professional personnel leadership committees in schools. She also called for a joint task force with the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

Bearden says other issues may need to be looked at as well. Eliminating the city residency requirement may keep more new teachers in the system, he suggests. “Some of this could be for financial reasons or because we don’t provide the necessary support,” he adds.

Nationally, teacher attrition numbers have remained constant. “It is a chronic situation,” says Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies teacher attrition. “It is relatively high in general and high among beginners. Why it has gotten worse in Chicago, I’m not sure what is going on there. Given the state of the job market, the numbers surprise me.”

Duncan points to a revamped induction program and new office of principal development as evidence that the district is addressing new teacher attrition.

“Our goal over the next four or five years is to improve these numbers and reverse this trend,” he says.

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