Where The Public Schools Can Find $2.6 Billion More-- Every Year.
Martin Haberman
Distinguished Professor
School of Education
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

The turnover of failure/quitter teachers costs the public schools $2.6 billion each year. (Alliance for Education,2004) As mind boggling as this figure is the authors of this report believe that the $2.6 billion is a substantial underestimate since it does not take into account the full costs to the districts of their teacher turnover. In addition, this figure does not include the costs to these failure/quitters themselves (and to their families) of going to college to become teachers, or the costs to the public of supporting over 700 institutions of higher education which train these “fully qualified” individuals. For example, the SUNY system graduates approximately 17,000 teachers a year and none even apply to work in New York City. Since each urban school district adds to the amounts they invest in teacher education beyond the funds that go directly for recruitment, selection and hiring, it is likely that the $2.6 billion reported in this study is significantly less (perhaps as little as half) of the actual amount being spent by the school districts on maintaining a revolving door for quitter/failure teachers.

The turnover of failure/quitter teachers costs the public schools $2.6 billion each year. (Alliance for Education,2004) As mind boggling as this figure is the authors of this report believe that the $2.6 billion is a substantial underestimate since it does not take into account the full costs to the districts of their teacher turnover. In addition, this figure does not include the costs to these failure/quitters themselves (and to their families) of going to college to become teachers, or the costs to the public of supporting over 700 institutions of higher education which train these “fully qualified” individuals. For example, the SUNY system graduates approximately 17,000 teachers a year and none even apply to work in New York City. Since each urban school district adds to the amounts they invest in teacher education beyond the funds that go directly for recruitment, selection and hiring, it is likely that the $2.6 billion reported in this study is significantly less (perhaps as little as half) of the actual amount being spent by the school districts on maintaining a revolving door for quitter/failure teachers.

Taking funds intended for the teaching and learning of children and youth and using them for the recruitment, selection and education of teachers reaches the level of a monumental misappropriation when one considers specific urban districts. For example, the New York City Schools hire approximately 8,000 interns each year and pays tuition of over $12,000 for each of them to complete masters degrees in education. This $96 million dollars annually is not only a windfall to local universities but a misappropriation of taxpayer funds which were intended for the education of children and youth. I have recently visited NYC classrooms in which children have no writing paper. Paying for interns’ masters degrees does not produce more effective teachers whose children learn more nor any assurance that those completing these free masters degrees will remain as teachers in the district or in teaching. Indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. Teachers who complete masters degrees are more likely to leave classroom teaching. In my own small city the public schools pay for twelve credits of free university tuition for any individual in a training program to become an exceptional education teacher. My city is also average among urban districts in that fifty percent rate of its beginning teachers quit or fail in five years or less. In short, this discussion assumes that failure/quitter teachers cost the school districts “only” $2.6 billion annually but recognizes that there are compelling reasons for believing the total costs are substantially higher.

The mantra of the 120 failing urban school districts currently miseducating
seven million diverse children in urban poverty is that before they can be held accountable for raising achievement and cutting drop out rates they need three things: more money, more money and more money. They brush aside the contention that their school systems already have substantially more funds to appropriate to classrooms and children with the challenge, “If you think we have more funds we can spend on teaching and learning show us where the money is.” Now, with this study, we need no longer argue about whether the central offices are bloated, or how these failing systems can justify employing more people to work at jobs outside of classrooms than as actual teachers of children inside of classrooms. We now have the irrefutable facts--albeit underestimated. Substantial funds are already in these failing systems and being misappropriated.

Each of the fifty state governments has the constitutional responsibility and ultimate accountability for the local school districts in their states. None of the states gives any of its local school districts the authority to use state funds, collected from taxpayers for the compulsory education of children and youth the authority to redirect these funds to the training of teachers. Each of these states has a separate system of publicly funded higher education, a substantial portion of which is directed to the education of teachers. It has always been assumed that recruiting and hiring teachers is such a miniscule portion of a school district’s budget that the concept of “misappropriation” simply wouldn’t apply to a problem such as teacher turnover. This assumption is still correct in small towns and suburbs. It has not been correct in the 120 major urban school districts for more than twenty five years. When the churn of quitter/failure teachers coming and going from these dysfunctional districts reaches the level of $2.6 billion annually it becomes reasonable and necessary to question the siphoning off of substantial funds that should be going to the education of diverse children and youth in poverty. This is a law suit waiting to happen. What is the cause of this problem? What is the solution?

In many states, including my own, the majority of those whom the schools and colleges of education and their respective state education departments license and pronounce “fully qualified” never take teaching jobs. The primary reason for this is that the jobs are in the 120 largest urban districts serving diverse children in urban poverty and most of these graduates are more honest about their inadequacies than the people who certify and license them. The graduates know they do not want to, or can’t, teach diverse children in poverty. The children, the parents and the public should heartily thank all these “teachers” who never teach for moving on to graduate school to train for other careers or for taking jobs outside of education. Unfortunately, there is a substantial number of others who are afraid of African American children, or who don’t want to work with bilingual children, or with diverse children in poverty but who deign to accept positions teaching them. They may be individuals who have little understanding of their own lack of skills, or who are ignorant of the challenges presented by working in dysfunctional bureaucracies. They may be individuals simply desperate for a job with health insurance and a retirement package. These subgroups comprise the “fully qualified” who waste their own and the children’s precious school time failing, quitting and running up the annual tab of $2.6 billion.

The argument of those in schools and colleges of education, their lobbyists and their apologists is even more appalling and less justified than the cry for more funds from the school districts. The colleges and universities not only seek additional funds for preparing even larger numbers of failure/quitters but argue that the conditions of work in these failing school districts are so horrendous that they can’t be held accountable for preparing teachers to stay in them until the schools are first transformed into decent places for teachers to work. In a very real sense this excuse is valid. The conditions of work in the 120 failing urban districts are horrendous and do prevent many committed, well prepared teachers from being effective. It is also true that this excuse is a self-serving, disingenuous attempt to avoid selecting beginning teachers from non-traditional pools who are more likely to become “fully qualified”. Every one of these 120 failing school districts has star teachers and even a few successful schools right now functioning under the very same horrendous, anti-learning conditions fostered by their dysfunctional bureaucracies. Approximately eight percent of urban teachers are stars whose children are learning in spite of all the debilitating conditions of work. Chicago alone has over 2,000 such teachers. Stars are teachers whose students achieve regardless of the quality of the principal, the alignment of the curriculum with the tests, the school climate, the involvement of the parents, class size or any of the factors typically used to explain school success. The question is how do the 120 failing school districts recruit and select more potentially star teachers and stop the churn of failure/quitters damaging children and youth in need of effective teachers.

The first cause of this problem is the completely impersonal hiring procedures used in many of these districts to hire beginning teachers. Urban school districts have extensive written and paper requirements involving the completion of application forms, the transmission of transcripts and licenses, criminal checks, and the passing of physical exams, state tests and computerized interviews. In many of these districts applicants complete all of these requirements without ever meeting anyone face-to-face who will be held accountable for hiring them. Except for the position of teacher in a failing urban school system I have never been able to identify another job in American society that an individual can be hired for without having some kind of oral interview with another human being. People hired to wash cars or to clean toilets cannot get those jobs without having to speak to a person who is then responsible for having hired them. Using the rationalization that they do not have the time or the resources to personally interview every teacher applicant, the hiring officials of many failing urban school systems continue to hire large numbers of beginning teachers without anyone interviewing them until after they have been sent letters offering them positions. The hiring officials who are overwhelmed with the never-ending work of hiring new teachers never stop to ask themselves the obvious question: “If our expensive, extensive, depersonalized system of compiling thick dossiers of paperwork on each applicant were getting our district effective teachers who stayed, why would we have to expend so much time, effort and money hiring so many new teachers again every year?” When district officials are confronted directly with the fact that their hiring procedures are systematically identifying and recruiting quitter/failures rather than effective teachers they respond with, “You can’t hold us responsible for teachers’ terrible working conditions; that’s up to the school principals.” Until and unless the school districts 1) utilize a hiring process that includes personal interviews with predictive validity and 2) hold specific district employees accountable for hiring specific candidates to teach in those districts, the current practice of recruiting, processing and hiring quitter/failures in the 120 dysfunctional bureaucracies will continue. Where there is no accountability there is no improvement.

The second cause for the continuous teacher turnover is the failed system of traditional teacher preparation. If traditional teacher education were working rather than grinding out failure/quitters and those who never take jobs there would be no need to hire 2.2 million teachers between 2000 and 2010. The solution is to hold those who claim to be preparing and licensing “fully qualified” teachers accountable for their graduates. An accountable system of preparing teachers would hold schools of education responsible for whether their graduates took jobs where they are needed, how long they stayed and how well their students achieved.

The solution is not complex and the process for reaching that solution already exists in the systems the various state governments use for licensing teachers, for approving their teacher education programs and for funding higher education. No existing state departments, organizational structure or funding levels have to be transformed or even changed to solve this problem. The only obstacle is the historical unwillingness to hold traditional university based programs of teacher education accountable for their graduates. A system of accountability for traditional teacher education could readily be administered by the state education departments which currently oversee preparation programs. The states currently mandate criteria which schools of education must meet in order to remain accredited and receive public funds. States could require that in order to continue receiving state funding schools and colleges of education must keep records of whether their graduates take teaching positions, in which school districts and how effective they are. A few states have tried to do this but none has reached the level of actually making their teacher preparing institutions truly accountable. The way to “motivate” the colleges and universities to collect the necessary follow-up data on their “fully qualified” graduates is make their graduates’ effectiveness as teachers the basis of their funding. Presently, states fund public universities using input criteria, i.e. how many student credit hours they offer to how many students. The more students there are taking more courses the more funding schools of education generate from their states. This system has proven to be a powerful source of motivation for schools of education to produce as many graduates as they can without ever being held accountable for whether they teach or whether they could teach if they chose to. In effect, these are rewards for producing as many quitter/failures as possible. In this current system of non- accountability the schools of education are in no way connected to the miseducation of diverse children and youth and poverty. The schools of education consider their clients the preservice students buying credits in education courses not the children in schools. “Evaluating” the current system therefore has nothing whatever to do with whether the “fully qualified” graduates can teach anyone anything and involves only the counting of credits hours students have completed in the schools of education. This system of funding inputs (i.e. coursework) rather than any outcomes makes the teacher preparing institution’s primary goal increasing the number of education courses that are required for an increasing number of students. The Texas legislature tried to halt this system by passing a law limiting state support to colleges and universities to eighteen credits in education courses. This meant that institutions could not be reimbursed by the state for requiring more and more education courses. This was a small first step but it did not change the nature of the students who were admitted to teacher education programs nor make the teacher preparing institutions accountable for the performance of their graduates. Tinkering with the input criteria into traditional teacher educations programs does not change or improve them . Focusing on output criteria and instituting a system of accountability would change who the schools of education admit and the nature of the training offered.

To accomplish such an accountability system the basis for a state’s support formula to a school of education would begin with the number of “fully qualified” graduates it turns out in a given year. The number who do not take teaching jobs would then be subtracted from this base number. The number who take positions but then quit or fail in the first three years would also be subtracted from this base number. Finally, the success of the graduates in effecting students’ learning would be factored in from data gathered from the districts employing them. What this would mean in practice is that the budget cycle of a particular teacher preparing institution would reflect a three year lag so that the funding formula could take into account how many graduates took jobs, how long they stayed and their students’ achievement. At the end of five years a bonus would be added to the support level of the base year for teachers still in classrooms whose children were achieving at satisfactory levels.

Using $2.6 billion for children rather than for hiring failure/quitter teachers would mean that approximately $375 more could be spent on each of the 7 million diverse children in poverty every year. This means that every school serving diverse children in poverty could have approximately $9,275 more for every class of twenty five students. If the classrooms were in a small school of thirty classrooms that school would have over $278,000 more to spend than it does now. If the classrooms were in a larger school of one hundred classrooms that school would have $927,000 more to work with every year. These are substantial amounts that could allow a school to hire teacher aides, or offer tutoring programs, or buy more computers, or rehire an art and music teacher, or take more field trips, or update textbooks, or start a summer school, or take students camping, or buy more science equipment, or start an after school program, or give teachers bonuses for particular achievements, or if the school were in NYC the children might get some paper to write on.

Another alternative would be to apply the $2.6 billion to the 2,000 failing high schools which we have known about for years but do nothing about. Half of America’s African American students and forty percent of Latino students attend drop out factories where a majority of the students never graduate. (Balfannz,Legters,2004) In the United States those with handicapping conditions are more likely to graduate from high school (two-thirds) than those in poverty or students of color (half). Half of the dropout factories are in Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and New York. The other have are in the South and Southwest. Each of these high schools could get $1.3 million more every year if all the districts stopped hiring the “fully qualified” teachers currently being graduated by unaccountable schools of education.

Spending $2.6 billion annually on quitter/failure teachers is actually worse than simply shoveling the money into Lake Michigan. Just dumping the money would have no negative effects on children from having to endure quitter/failure teachers who turn them off to learning and to school. A billion here a billion there, pretty soon we’re talking about real money.

References
Alliance for Education, 2004 “Tapping the Potential: Retaining and Developing High Quality New Teachers” 1101 Vermont Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C.
Belfanz, R. and Legters,N.,2004 “Locating the Dropout Crisis” Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore, MD.

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