Safety no. 1 concern

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The following is a report on a survey Catalyst commissioned to see how recent education graduates decide where to teach. Institutions chosen for the survey were the University of Illinois at Chicago, National-Louis University, based in Evanston, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The survey was conducted by the Metro Chicago Information Center, a non-profit organization providing focus group, survey research, mapping and analysis services. Woody Carter, the author, is MCIC’s director of research.

First the good news. About 60 percent of new teacher graduates from three area schools of education feel positive about teaching in Chicago Public Schools. Furthermore, about half of them (31 percent) actually made an effort to get teaching jobs in Chicago Public Schools this September. Now the bad news. Only about half of them—18 percent—ultimately accept CPS jobs.

Why? Concerns about school safety, the school system’s residency requirement and anemic recruiting efforts create barriers between the best new teachers and teaching jobs in the Chicago Public Schools. This paper reports on these and other findings of a mail survey of 340 recent education graduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago, which has become CPS’s biggest supplier; National-Louis University, a major private supplier; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the elite schools CPS is targeting.

Gung ho for Chicago

For the most part, new teachers have a favorable bias toward teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. Overall, 26 percent report they are “very positive” and another 32 percent are “somewhat positive” about teaching in the system. UIC graduates, more than half of whom will teach in the CPS, were the most positive (80 percent favorable); Madison graduates, sending less than 1 percent of their graduates here, the least at 45 percent favorable.

To understand this better, the survey asked about the factors influencing opinion and knowledge about CPS. The findings, ranked by the proportion selecting “very much influenced,” are shown in

Table 1.

Friends, parents, and CPS recruiting efforts are the clear losers in this competition for the hearts and minds of new teachers. This was supported in focus groups with current Chicago teachers—many of whom reported they were strongly advised against teaching in CPS by family and friends but applied anyway.

Experiences living in Chicago, as well as student teaching in the city, are highly influential, as is media coverage of Chicago schools. However, the nature of that influence is very different. The more respondents relied on their own experiences teaching and living in Chicago, the more likely they were to want to teach in the CPS; relying on the media made them less likely. U.W. Madison graduates, with less exposure to and familiarity with Chicago, rely more on the media and have a more negative view toward teaching in the city.

In comments written on the questionnaire, respondents underlined the importance of increased contact with the realities of CPS teaching. A typical example:

“Bring student teachers in and have a lot of people talk about the system—tell us what it will be like. There’s a lot of rumors and talk but not a lot of facts. Actually going there and seeing what happens in a day—hook teachers up with potential teachers— in a buddy system. With literature, people are skeptical – everything seems great on paper, but what is it really like?”

Professors in education schools carry more weight than friends but less than the media in Table 1; the more influential the mentors were, the more likely the respondent was to want to work in the Chicago Public Schools. Education school professors are influencing their students positively about urban teaching.

Making a difference

The lure of bright lights is not the primary motivation to want to teach in Chicago; rather, it is the opportunity for a dedicated teacher to make a difference. The survey asked graduates who would consider teaching in the CPS (77 percent) what attracted them about the jobs (See findings in Table 2.)

The opportunity to teach inner-city children was the No. 1 motivator across all three schools of education. This suggests it resonates with the core reasons many have decided to become teachers. One respondent wrote about “the difference in emotional rewards when teaching in the inner city vs. a suburban school with kids who have everything they have ever needed and more. Everyone deserves the chance to have a good teacher. The kids in the city are still just kids!”

For other dimensions, priorities differed, with UIC graduates selecting “giving back to the community” and “student teaching experiences” as key factors, National-Louis graduates identifying “giving back to the community,” and U.W. Madison students “the chance to live in a big city.” Here again, CPS recruiting efforts do not appear to play a significant role in attracting talent to jobs in the system.

Safety first

About 35 percent of the National-Louis and Madison1 students said they would never consider a CPS job, but only 10 percent of the UIC graduates felt this way. The survey asked respondents who said they would not consider teaching in the Chicago Public Schools to give their reasons. Table 3 reports the results.

Safety concerns, a preference not to live in a big city, and the desire to stay near family and friends stand out as major factors among the teacher graduates who would not consider working for the Chicago Public Schools. Comments in the popular “other” category focused on strong opposition to the CPS residency requirement. As one respondent noted, “Do not limit yourselves because of where a teacher lives. There are excellent teachers in the suburbs that want to teach in Chicago but cannot. Therefore you cannot claim to want the best.” CPS efforts to encourage mid-career professionals to become teachers may be derailed by the unwillingness of seasoned, situated professionals to uproot home and family as a job requirement.

Safety concerns are not limited to those who would never consider teaching in Chicago Public Schools. The survey asked for the three changes that would make respondents more likely to want to teach in CPS. The findings, based on answers by all respondents, including those positive toward the CPS, are shown in Table 4.

There is an enormous variability in new graduate views of teaching conditions—safety, classroom resources, and working environment—in the Chicago public schools. As one respondent wrote, “There is a widely known myth that the Chicago Public Schools are unsafe, lacking resources and good teaching/learning environments.” To others, the “myth” appears true:

“I graduated top 10% of my class. Safety was an enormous issue for both my husband and me. The only offer to teach in CPS was from a school in which the police told me to get out of the area for my safety.”

“Create a better working environment. I student taught in CPS and was turned off by the system when I had to pay to do my copies at Kinkos, very unprofessional in my opinion.”

“The biggest disappointment that I experienced during student teaching was the constant conflict between the teachers and the administrative staff. If you want to recruit the best graduates, it is imperative that there is camaraderie within the school system and amongst those who are involved.”

Current teachers in focus groups presented a similar range of contradictory “realities,” with schools varying dramatically in terms of perceived safety, teacher resources, and friendliness to new teachers—or lack thereof. Most of the current teachers had considered, at one time or another, moving to other jobs in more supportive school systems; some had decided to do so. Student teaching and substitute teaching were identified as two of the best ways to learn the real conditions in a particular school, but these are not available to many teacher trainees. Survey results suggest that more student teaching in CPS would make graduates more knowledgeable and more eager to work there—of the 62 reporting student teaching experience in city schools, 84 percent indicated the experience contributed to their willingness to teach in Chicago.

CPS a slowpoke

The key roadblock appears not to be the image or appeal of the Chicago school system, but rather hiring practices that put CPS at a disadvantage compared to competing systems. Although “earlier hire decision date” and “streamlined application process” are not among the top changes selected in Table 4, they were addressed in a number of respondent comments:

“Don’t allow teachers to wait until the last minute to retire, quit, etc., just to get medical coverage over the summer. Many people I know got jobs in the suburbs because positions are opened and available so much earlier there. Only the really dedicated and the ‘leftovers’ are available at the last minute.”

“Most suburban schools post job positions and begin the interviewing process in the spring – my one piece of advice for the CPS would be to recruit and post positions much earlier in the year when ‘the best graduates’ are looking for jobs.”

“I was called by a couple of principals this week (August 12). I have been hired by a private school since June!!! I have been planning and setting up my room for a month or two. The CPS practice of hiring teachers one week before school illustrates a total lack of respect for teachers.”

Under school reform, only principals can hire new teachers, and they only know for certain just before the school year starts exactly how many of the prior year’s teachers are leaving. Those teachers have an incentive to inform principals at the last minute so they can retain subsidized health benefits over the summer. Furthermore, principals have school racial distributions they must try to improve in their hiring, which further limits their flexibility and makes it difficult for some new teachers to work near where they live.

“I am an exceptional teacher. However, since I am white, many principals said they could not hire me,” said one graduate.

From the perspective of new education graduates, more flexible and less constrained school systems snap up the best teachers well before August.

Hope for the future

In spite of the influence of negative media and the survey’s finding that past CPS recruiting efforts have been ineffective, there is much to be hopeful about regarding prospects for hiring teacher graduates from the schools surveyed. As noted earlier, new graduates are surprisingly positive about teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. To better connect the system with the students, respondents clearly prefer responsiveness to inquiries and outreach activities like campus visits and job fairs, as shown in Table 5.

However, only “responsiveness to applicants” was selected as “very effective” by more than 20 percent of respondents, indicated a generally unenthusiastic view of CPS recruiting efforts. More than a quarter of trainees at these education schools had not been exposed to any CPS recruiting activity, and more than half the respondents had no familiarity at all with three (potentially) highly effective methods: inducements, professional recruiters, and field trips to Chicago schools.

Limited exposure limits the possible scores for these approaches but suggests that more aggressive, strategic recruiting will pay off. It was high on the list of respondent written comments:

“Provide a lot of information (in writing) to the applicants. This should include ‘pros & cons’ of the district, and what is being done to improve the ‘cons.’ Also, a clear outline of financial benefits like salary and insurance. Finally, provide one-to-one discussions with a person employed with the district – maybe a teacher or a principal.”

“During the winter quarter have campus visits by school administrators and principals—then assign a mentor to work along with the future graduate to ensure placement.”

“Offer lectures given by teachers who have been successful teaching in the Chicago Public Schools—this would offer encouragement.”

“Physically go into the classrooms and speak with teachers that are graduating—advertise yourself!”

“I believe CPS should visit student teaching seminars, assuming that most of the attendees are graduating. No one from CPS ever presented in any of my classes and I certainly would have benefited from that.”

In focus groups, current CPS teachers remembered how na‹vely they approached the somewhat Byzantine CPS hiring process. Even the best schools, in the view of these recently minted teachers, do not prepare new graduates for the real world of urban education bureaucracy. And CPS responsiveness appears to vary considerably. A number of questionnaires included exasperated comments about how their application was still in limbo and “no one ever called back.” Madison graduates face another hurdle:

“Wisconsin has no reciprocity with Illinois, therefore, the process to receive my Illinois license was time consuming, slow, and way too complex. CPS requires Illinois licensing, therefore, I was not allowed to take a position in CPS no matter how much I would have loved to …. after many phone calls and run around I was able to apply; yet after two months I still have not received my license.”

Respondents had suggestions for how to change what they see as anemic CPS recruiting efforts:

“When they are at job fairs, they need to do everything they can to make sure new teachers know what they need to do to get into the Chicago Public School system.”

“Send email/mail to students who are in their last year of teacher training—honestly describing the needs and situation in Chicago. Make them feel needed/wanted. Take out LARGE ads in campus newspapers especially the Onion. Let them know they can make a difference.”

“Recruiters need to be more readily available for questions of new graduates—if I hadn’t had extra help from others (friends) I would’ve been lost.”

Tailor approaches to targets

National-Louis, UIC, and UW-Madison present three different profiles of students and thus may require different recruitment strategies. UIC considers itself a leader in urban education, and indeed, more than half its new graduates are teaching in Chicago this fall. More than 60 percent of National-Louis students, in contrast, report taking jobs in Chicago’s suburbs. UW Madison sends few graduates to Chicago, but 31 percent report they are teaching in an urban school elsewhere, while 45 percent teach in suburbs of other cities.

The three schools provide different profiles of factors in their graduates’ decision where to teach. Ranked in terms of overall preference, the school-by-school breakdowns are shown in Table 6. Areas where the schools show sizable differences are highlighted.

Madison graduates are more concerned with type of community, affordable housing, and proximity to family or friends, than are respondents from the other schools. They are less concerned with safety, support for new teachers, and pay. National-Louis students rank reputation of school district and type of community higher than UIC respondents, but on most other dimensions they are similar. An exception is that UIC graduates rank support for new teachers higher than those in the other two schools. A finely-tuned marketing strategy would have to target Madison students with one message and the other two schools with a different emphasis.

42 who got away

The survey asked respondents whether the following best describes their situation: “I wanted to work in Chicago public schools but it didn’t happen.” Of the 13 percent (42 individuals) answering “yes,” most got jobs in the suburbs instead. The reasons why are suggested by Table 7, reporting these respondents’ selections of ways they would be more likely to teach in Chicago Public Schools. Table 7 also provides, for comparison, the plus or minus movement in rank from the overall ranking in Table 4. For example, “no residency requirement” was ranked second by this group and fifth by the sample as a whole – an increase in rank of three steps.

The items moving up the rankings the most were residency requirement, earlier hire decision date, and streamlined application process—suggesting these as key reasons why these graduates from the area schools of education were denied the jobs they really wanted with the Chicago Public Schools.

The need to bridge the gap between Chicago Public Schools and teacher training institutions is perhaps the one most important finding of this research. Currently, the gap is filled primarily by media and rumor, neither of which strengthens CPS’s appeal. More sophisticated advertising and recruitment will have payoffs, but they still imply a “we-they” dynamic of distance. Some respondents suggest a different paradigm, involving a greater spirit of partnership. This would involve teaming with the faculty who are already promoting the opportunities in urban education and expanding opportunities for student teaching and honest communication between trainee and experienced teachers. As one respondent wrote, “Work closely with the universities. The [Chicago Public] schools should participate in the educational process of teachers. The more the teachers get in their buildings, the better selection of teachers they will have.”

Survey

The questionnaire for this study was developed in two focus groups conducted with Chicago Public Schools teachers who were recent graduates. New graduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago, National-Louis University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison who had expressed an interest in urban teaching received questionaires. IRSS, Inc. conducted telephone interviews with some respondents from those schools. Returns were extraordinarily high.

Survey respondents ranged in age from 21 to 54; though most—68.4 percent—were 22 to 30 years old. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority were female; only 20 percent were male. More than 4 out of every 5 respondents was white. Only 12 percent were minorities, most of them Hispanic or Asian. Blacks comprised 2 percent. Many of the students resided in Chicago area suburbs (43 percent); only 19 percent called lived inside the Chicago city limits. The rest (37 percent) hailed from other urban, suburban or rural areas. Please note that not all percentages total 100, as some respondents opted not to answer all demographic questions.