Recruiting, retaining quality

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With a baby boomlet, increased course requirements and new programs, the Chicago public schools’ appetite for new teachers is increasing. To compete with the suburbs for the most qualified teachers and to keep the city’s best, both the administration and outside partners have stepped up efforts to recruit and support good teachers.

“I find that competition with suburban districts has increased since I left,” says Margaret Harrigan, a former CPS human resources director who is now on the education faculty at DePaul University. “When I was still with the CPS, it was an unexpressed desire by suburban districts [to get the best]. Since I’ve been here, it’s been expressed.”

In the early 1990s, the city school system typically hired 1,200 new teachers a year, Harrigan says. Last year, it hired 1,539, according to her successor, Thomas Doyle. So far this year, it’s brought in 1,357 new teachers, he says.

With the exception of shortages in math, science, bilingual education and special education, Illinois is producing enough teachers to meet the needs of school districts from Cairo to Chicago, school officials say. The challenge for Chicago and other urban districts is recruiting, developing and retaining talented individuals.

Why CPS needs more new teachers

The system’s appetite for new teachers has been whetted by several trends:

Through increased immigration and a baby boom echo, the state’s public school enrollment is expected to increase through 2005-06, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The upturn began in 1990-91, following a 17-year decline.

The Chicago school system is opening more preschool classrooms and, following a reduction in the mandatory attendance age, more kindergartens.

In high schools, math and science course requirements are being increased, aggravating a long-standing shortage of math and science teachers. Shortages also continue in bilingual and special education.

Under the Reform Board’s promotion policy, some students will take an extra year to graduate. Further, meeting the goal of reducing dropouts would increase the demand for teachers.

Two uncertainties have the potential for adding to the demand as well:

Under reconstitution, teachers who are not invited to remain at their schools could be bounced from the school system within 10 months. Last summer, seven reconstituted schools showed 174 teachers the door. By mid-February, 93 had found positions elsewhere in the system, and 21 had retired, resigned or taken leaves of absence. As for the rest, the Chicago Teachers Union is poised to file a grievance the minute any of them loses a job.

“There was total inconsistency in terms of who should stay and who should go,” contends CTU spokesperson Jackie Gallagher. “The teachers in the schools should be part of the reconstitution. If you talk to teachers in a school, they know who the bad teachers are and who would be uncooperative. If they felt they were part of the process, they would [help identify those teachers.]”

Again there’s talk in the General Assembly about offering another round of early-retirement incentives. “It’s still on the menu, but as to how much of any menu will be addressed in this hot political year is uncertain,” says Sen. Arthur Berman (D-Chicago), minority spokesman on the Senate Education Committee.

In the early 1990s, the Chicago public schools lost 2,500 teachers to a special early-retirement offer. Currently, the average age of CPS teachers is 47.

Math and science teacher shortage

To help plug the math and science gap, the Golden Apple Foundation and Northwestern University have teamed up to recruit and retool individuals with backgrounds in math and science but not teaching. (See story)

Martin Koldyke is the founder of Golden Apple and a board member at Northwestern, which now is involved in three personnel training programs for CPS.

The school system currently is short 20 math teachers and 30 science teachers, according to Communications Director Reanetta Hunt. The increase in math and science course requirements (three years, up from two) will make itself felt in fall 1999, as the Class of 2001 hits its junior year. Members of that class also will be the first required to take two years of a foreign language.

Bilingual teacher shortage

In bilingual education, a proposed move by the Reform Board to limit the time students spend in bilingual education could reduce that shortage. Currently, about 20 percent of the school system’s some 2,200 bilingual education teachers are not fully certified, school officials say.

“If anything, some bilingual teachers will move into the general program and still service transitional bilingual students, but we have to make sure they begin to work toward their standard state certification,” says Armando Almendarez, the system’s new director of multilingual education.

Harrigan says many teachers certified in bilingual education already are teaching in regular classrooms, which has left the formal bilingual program short.

Special ed teacher shortage

A recent lawsuit settlement may push special education in the same direction: More special education students will be taught in regular classrooms, where they are to be supported by teachers with special education training.

“We will need at least as many [certified special education] teachers, if not more,” says Susan Gamm, chief of specialized services for the school system.

Currently, about 10 percent of Chicago’s 5,800 special education teachers are not certified to teach the classes they are teaching, school officials report. “We came close to eliminating [the shortage] a couple of years ago,” Gamm says, “but early retirement hit us very hard. We’re still reeling from that, and it’s going to take a while to recover.”

As of January, special education needed about 100 additional teachers just to fill vacancies.

Gamm recently created a task force of representatives from most Chicago-area teacher colleges; its purpose is to acquaint the colleges with CPS needs and to work toward ways of meeting them. The task force also is looking at how the state categorizes children with special needs. Like many other special education experts, Gamm favors shifting to a less categorical, more open-ended system that would “profile our kids, not label them.”

Quality vs. quantity

In other areas, the state’s teacher supply is ample. “With 55 teacher education programs in Illinois, there seems to be plenty of teachers,” says Steve Tozer, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He notes that Illinois State University is among the nation’s top 10 in teacher production, and that programs at Northern Illinois and Eastern Illinois universities “are huge.”

“It’s not a question of bodies,” Harvard University economist Richard Murnane says in the January/February issue of the Harvard Education Letter, which examines shortages nationwide. “It’s a question of quality. What we’re talking about is a shortage of people who are well-educated and have the skills to teach.” Such teachers gravitate toward more affluent school districts, which typically offer higher salaries, more classroom resources and fewer social problems, he says.

Recruitment of new teachers

In a first, the Chicago administration is taking its case to some of the country’s most prestigious teacher preparation programs. (See story.) “Employee recruitment is a fact of life in the corporate world,” says Reform Board President Gery Chico. “Companies know they have to go out and make their case to the best and brightest talent available. That’s exactly where we’re doing with this campaign.”

However, Martin Haberman, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who has specialized in urban teaching issues, contends that schools need to pay more attention to the character and maturity of applicants than to their college credentials.

Urban districts “have to go for adults,” he says. “In every city, the regular program is becoming the adults; 22-year-olds are becoming the alternative. There’s probably 5 percent to 10 percent [of young, teaching college graduates] who can successfully do it in an urban setting.”

Teachers for Chicago, a program that helps mid-life career changers acquire teaching certificates and master’s degrees in education, uses Haberman’s interview process to screen applicants. That, along with in-school mentoring, has resulted in an 85 percent retention rate, reports Frank Tobin, the program’s recruitment coordinator.

Retention of new teachers

Tozer says that, in contrast, the retention rate among other teachers new to the Chicago public schools is 50 percent to 60 percent in their first five years.

While some young teachers sink, others swim to calmer waters. “What [affluent districts] are doing is allowing other districts to provide the first five to seven years of experience,” says Fred Hess, director of the Center for Urban School Policy at Northwestern University. “Those are the most difficult years [in a teachers’ career]. That’s not hard data, but common knowledge among principals in Chicago.”

Application process problems

Meanwhile, the school administration, at the urging of the Financial Research and Advisory Committee (FRAC), is beginning to tackle the extra hurdles that teacher applicants face in Chicago. An arm of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, FRAC began working with the school system in 1993 to upgrade human resources and other operations.

Because of high student mobility, schools often don’t know until September or even October how many teachers they will need each year. Therefore, hiring often isn’t done until summer or early fall. The situation has grown more complicated since the School Reform Act gave principals the authority to select teachers without regard to seniority; now, applicants have to pitch themselves to individual schools, not simply a human resources official. And there’s no system for helping them choose.

Almendarez, for example, says he keeps a growing list of qualified bilingual teachers in his office, but that most principals don’t even seem to know about it. “Those vacancies would be lower if the principals would just come in,” says Almendarez. “I did post it on e-mail that they should come and look through my resumes file. People continue to send resumes to our office, but sometimes principals just go to Human Resources.”

Such problems are not unique to Chicago. “Large urban districts are notorious for creating their own shortages,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, a Columbia University professor who is executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “I gave a talk in Chicago recently, and one of the things I talked about was hiring about 1,200 teachers last year, including about 400 after Labor Day. Teachers will tell you that if they have their file lost five times, stand in line for six hours and don’t get an interview until after Labor Day, they will go elsewhere.”

In a November 1997 Commission report, Doing What Matters Most: Investing In Quality Teaching, Darling-Hammond says some large, urban districts’ hiring procedures are so “cumbersome, dysfunctional and untimely that they chase the best-prepared candidates away instead of aggressively recruiting them.”

Janet Froetscher, executive director of FRAC, agrees: “While we do get some very good teachers, it’s more luck than the result of any kind of focused effort.

“A lot has happened here in the last couple of years, and it can be very exciting for a teacher here now,” she continues, “but we don’t do a good job of telling anyone why they should teach here, and then we don’t make it easy. If you have to go to every school yourself, or go to Pershing Road and get sent back and forth 20 times, you really have to want to teach in Chicago.”

Application process improvements

Darling-Hammond cites a successful initiative in Fairfax County, Va., to streamline what had been a 62-step hiring process that took months to complete; now the process is computerized and takes two weeks.

All prospective teachers and their resumes, as well as all job openings, are entered into a database; that way, principals and teachers can quickly contact and court each other.

Following a visit to Fairfax, school officials from New York City revised their administrative process and established partnerships with universities to obtain well-prepared students.

Darling-Hammond says New York is improving its capacity to predict retirements, vacancies, supply and demand. “They do make offers early now and have cut down on hiring unqualified people, but they have to be willing to make projections and be more proactive about management of the personnel process,” she says.

Last year, New York filled two-thirds of its 5,500 vacancies with fully-qualified teachers, Darling-Hammond says; five years ago, it filled only a third of a smaller total number with fully-qualified teachers. In the meantime, New York reduced the total number of uncertified teachers by half.

Local examples

In a pilot program funded by foundations, FRAC is attempting to play matchmaker in Chicago. It, too, has sent recruiters to college campuses. But it has gone on to interview them about their teaching philosophies and to enter the results into a database, which will be available this spring to principals at 100 schools that likely will have the most openings.

“When you get a person with a particular approach or teaching method and he or she is in a school that has very different approaches, they are less likely to want to be there or to stay,” Froetscher notes.

Froetscher reports that the board also has “indicated a willingness” to guarantee in March or April teaching positions for 100 of the recruits from the FRAC initiative. “There is [also] a high probability they will get the school they want, but at the very least, they will be guaranteed a job early in the process,” she says, adding that FRAC is seeking school-level guarantees as well.

Many observers believe that in one key area, the Reform Board is working against itself. “There is no way you can defend residency as being related to teacher competency,” says Harrigan, referring to the school system’s city residency requirement. “What it really is is a way to try and keep middle-class people in the city. It has no effect on whether you are more committed in the classroom. I think it’s good to keep teachers in the city, but don’t be so phony about it as to relate it to maintaining teacher competency.”

“What organization is going to reduce its pool of applicants, which in effect this is doing, at a time of shortage?” she asks.

Help for new teachers

Teacher retention also is getting serious attention for the first time.

In a pilot program funded jointly by the School Board and foundations, the University of Illinois at Chicago has trained 120 veteran CPS teachers to be mentors to about 300 new teachers in their schools. (See story on page 9.)

“We want to change how business is done with new teachers,” explains Tozer of UIC. “A major reason that new teachers in urban areas have a higher attrition rate is because they are expected to meet the most challenging teaching demands without support from experienced teachers and others who know the ropes.”

For urban children, this means greater exposure to more teachers who are less experienced. “In other words,” says Tozer, “this directly contributes to lower student performance in urban classes because new teachers are still trying to learn their profession.”

“We expect by next fall to double the number [of mentors and mentees] and get into all the schools by the end of three years,” says Tozer.

Beverly Tunney, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, says her own daughter, a CPS teacher, nearly threw in the towel after her first year.

“She would come home crying every night,” recalls Tunney, who never lost a teacher to anything but retirement or death during her 18 years as a principal. “She was just devastated. She had a whole slew of difficult kids, two of whom were tuitioned out, meaning they were so bad, the CPS paid to get rid of them. And nobody was helping her. She was spending an inordinate amount of her time with those two kids in her first year of teaching. If I hadn’t been there for her, she would have quit teaching or gone to the suburbs.”

The daughter transferred to the mother’s old school, Healy, where mom knew she would find a supportive culture.

Tunney says there was a time when young teachers who were “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and wanted to work hard” were beaten down by burnt-out veterans. “They were picked on by other teachers no matter how much a principal tried to support them,” she says. “You still see a little of that, but not so much lately because everyone is now being held accountable, and they are getting scared because they don’t want to lose their jobs.”

In its principal training program, the principals association stresses the need to support teachers. “You have to make teachers feel good about themselves,” says Tunney. “You have to be their cheerleader, their coach and their judge. So much of why they stay has to do with where they feel of value. It’s that simple.”