Study: Teacher turnover 'chronically' high at Chicago schools

About 100 Chicago schools have chronically high rates of teacher turnover, losing a quarter or more of their teaching staff every year, according to a University of Chicago report released today.

The study, from the university's Consortium on Chicago School Research, found that many of these schools serve predominantly low-income black children.

According to the report, 51 percent of teachers working at a typical Chicago elementary school in 2002 had left four years later, while 54 percent had left a typical high school by 2006.

Researchers studied records from 24,848 teachers in 538 elementary schools and 9,882 teachers from 118 high schools. The authors wrote that they did not have information about teachers in charter schools, so they did not include those in the analysis.

They examined factors associated with high turnover, including teachers' background characteristics, school structure, students' characteristics, and workplace conditions such as principal leadership, teacher collaboration and student safety.

Researchers found that in elementary schools, teachers' perceptions of parents as partners in students' education are strongly tied to their retention, and that in high schools, teachers tend to leave schools with the highest rates of student misbehavior.

"While some mobility is normal and expected," the authors wrote, "high turnover rates can produce a range of organizational problems at schools, such as discontinuity in professional development, shortages in key subjects, and loss of teacher leadership."

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart says the report exposes the flaws in Chicago Public Schools' policy of closing struggling schools. For years, officials at the district have embarked on an aggressive "turnaround" program of shutting down and replacing leadership at poorly performing schools.

"The CTU has opposed the CPS policy of closing schools that disrupt the learning environment and play a factor in teacher turnover," Stewart said in a statement this morning. "Instead we suggest CPS do more to retain teachers who have relationships with their students when schools are closed, consolidated, phased-out or turned around."

CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond says the district is trying to address teacher vacancies by giving principals more autonomy over struggling schools and investing in training programs such as the district's New Teacher Center, part of a national organization that helps coach beginning educators.

She says the district often moves teachers out of schools within their first years to more closely match them with needs at other schools. Other teachers, Bond says, may leave for personal reasons such as their spouses' careers.

"We can't really quantify why the teachers are leaving," she says. "It's kind of hard to determine the reasons."

Bond says that, anyway, it is unclear whether a high turnover at the district necessarily translates to bad education. She says district officials would rather move teachers out of the system or into other schools if they fit poorly at their initial posts.

"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Bond says. "We just don't know what the right amount of turnover is."

Staff Writer Adrian G. Uribarri can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 12, or adrian at chitowndailynews dot org.