Teacher Certification: Revolving Doors in City Schools

Teacher turnover plagues inner city schools, with classes often taught by new, uncertified teachers, and minority teachers increasingly rare.

Teacher shortages and teacher turnover rates are phenomena that often plague urban schools in low-income areas. Each year, urban and particularly "inner city" youth find much more frequently than suburban peers new teachers, often inexperienced ones, at the helm of their classrooms. New teachers may constitute in fact the majority of teachers in such schools. Teacher shortages also plague certain disciplines, particularly math.

Urban Turnover

The National Education Association (teachers' union) and Teach-now report that, "[n]ationally, approximately 30 percent of new teachers leave teaching within three years, and 40 to 50 percent leave within five years." Surveys of new teachers examined by Ingersoll and Kralik (2004) suggests that about 205 of teachers surveyed have left within five years. Researchers Ingersoll and Kralik corroborate NEA's and Teach-now's findings that 40 to 50 percent of new teachers may actually leave within five years.

Poorer teacher retention still in urban schools excacerbates urban teacher shortages as well as increases the number of new teachers at the head of urban classrooms. This is pointed out by both the NEA/Teach-now report, and Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckhoff, (2002; "Teacher Sorting and the Plight of Urban Schools: A Descriptive Analysis"). According to Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckhoff's longitudinal study of New York state public school teachers, 38.3 percent of New York city teachers remained in the same school between 1993 and 1995 compared with 45.6 percent of their suburban peers; also 20.5 percent of New York city teachers moved to different schools within the district, while only 15.3 percent of their suburban peers did so. U.S. General Accounting Office researchers surveyed selected inner city and suburban schools in several metropolitan areas across the nation (2002). The inner city schools surveyed were twice as likely as suburban schools to have ten percent or more first year teachers.

Transferring, Quitting

More suburban than urban New York teachers nevertheless transferred out of district (to other districts) during the course of Lankford, Loeb, and Wyckhoff's research. They did so, perhaps, Lankford et. al. speculate, because there were fewer within-district options for the suburban teachers than there were for the urban ones. Lankford et. al thus argue that New York state's urban-suburban teacher retention gap might not have been quite so huge as it appeared.

More telling may be the 35 percent of urban New York city teachers who left teaching in New York altogether during Lankford et. al's research, compared with 24.8 percent of their suburban peers. Lankford et. al report similar results for other urban-suburban groups of teachers in New York metropolitan areas other than New York City, including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. However Lankford et. al speculate that New York teachers may be leaving city schools for the higher pay rates in suburban schools as New York currently pays suburban teachers more. However suburban teachers do not earn more in all states, but inner city teacher turnover rates remain high.

Turnover of Uncertified Teachers?

Lankford et. al also report that more New York teachers without certification in any of their assignments transferred to other schools within the district, to other schools within the region, or even out of region when compared to colleagues certified in all subjects.

Overload of Emergency-Credentialed Teachers

Urban schools of course frequently respond to shortages by using such "emergency-credentialed" (uncertified or not completely certified) teachers. According to Sheets (2004), who studied emergency-credentialed teachers in California, 85% of teachers may be emergency-credentialed in some schools in impoverished areas, and 80% of the teachers in these areas may be first- or second-year teachers. Sheets adds that one in every ten classrooms "has a teacher who is not yet credentialed," while one out of ten teachers teaches "only one year."

Sometimes teachers who are not credentialed or who have had problems in other schools are "dumped" into inner-city schools, add Lankford et. al. Lankford et. al, cite Bridges (1996), who reported that, "when parents and students complained about teacher quality, the teachers were often then transferred to schools with high student transfer rates, large numbers of students receiving free or reduced price lunches, and large numbers of minority students." These uncertified teachers, as noted above, are frequently transferred around within the city until many of them leave teaching.

Fewer Minority Teachers

At the same time, there are a lack of minorities today in teaching: perhaps either fewer minorities enter the teaching profession, or else more are disqualified by today's certification examinations. Whatever the cause of the shortage, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (1997; cited by NEA/Teach-now), as minority teachers "age out" of teaching, there are no minority teachers replacing them: The NEA/Teach-now report notes that, "[a]s the proportion of minority children in the student population increases, 40 percent of America’s schools have no minority teachers at all."

Math Blues

Besides a shortage of qualified teachers in urban areas, there are shortages of qualified teachers for particular subjects, and out-of-field teaching is thus more common in some subject areas than in others. Math is the subject where out-of-field teaching is the most common, according to the NEA/Teach-now report, which cites Ingersoll, 1999, who reported "that about a third of all secondary school teachers who teach math do not have either a major or a minor in math, math education, or education in related disciplines like engineering and physics.

Impact of Turnover

The "exit rates and the resulting churning of teachers . . . may impact the quality of education that students receive," say Lankford et. al, who cite Rivkin, Hanushek, and Kain's longitudinal study of various individual students' achievement in Texas, noting that ". . . teachers have been shown to gain substantial skills over the first few years of teaching." High turnover rates can mean that new teachers rarely remain long enough to gain needed skills and hence that there is poor teacher quality. This may impact among other things student scores. Rivkin, et. al, who studied student achievement in reading and mathematics argued that with each year of the first four years of teacher experience there were significant improvements in student test scores, particularly for mathematics.