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Monday, December 24, 2007

Teacher Migration Common

By Rina Palta, December 23, 2007 at 6:41 pm

SAN FRANCISCO - When Douglas Rich walked into his first classroom 11 years
ago, he says it was "like something out of the movies." Kids were throwing
paper airplanes, running around the room. "One had jumped up and was hanging
from the doorway," he says. "It was funny."

He lasted six years at Sanchez Elementary, a predominantly minority,
predominately poor school with lousy test scores in San Francisco's Castro
district. The only one of nine new teachers to stay that long, he too
moved-to second grade at Alamo Elementary, a high-performing, primarily
white and Asian public school in the Richmond.

"It's not the kids, it's everything else," says Rich. "Like one poor first
grader was found locked in a men's bathroom in a city park at 10 at night
while his father was dealing drugs. They lack the basic things that we
consider fundamental," like parent support, health care, and a safe home, he
says, "it's too much for one person to take."

Many, apparently, share his sentiment. As if it were a rule in the San
Francisco Unified School District, experienced teachers migrate to the
academically best-performing schools with the fewest poor, Latino, and
African American students.

Currently, teachers at Sanchez have an average of 5.4 years of experience in
the district, whereas at Alamo Elementary, they have 16.3. The district
average for all teachers is 12 years.

This trend in teacher migration is national, and some Federal lawmakers are
calling for Congress to address the unequal distribution of experienced
teachers in any new version of No Child Left Behind. They say it should be
among the factors measured to compare schools.

At present, the legislation measures "comparable" services between high- and
low-poverty schools by denying Federal funds to districts until they
distribute per pupil expenditures evenly across the district. Teacher
salary, which is primarily based on a teacher's level of experience and
education, is currently excluded in the services that are compared. The
salary difference is left out of per pupil spending measurements.

A 2005 report by EdTrust-West, a nonprofit educational research and advocacy
group, calculated that nationally, spending within the same district could
differ by as much as $3,200 per student because of differences in teacher
salary. Sanchez Elementary, which already receives extra funding, would
require an additional $92,009 a year to catch up with more affluent schools
in the district, they said.

To address this "hidden spending gap," Rep. George Miller (D-Ca), chairman
of the House Education and Labor Committee, has written a draft of No Child
Left Behind that includes teacher salary in the measured services. Districts
would have to compensate schools with less experienced teachers. Schools
could use the new money to retain experienced teachers or for bonuses to
attract a higher caliber of teacher.

"Of course I want more experienced teachers," says Katerina Palomares,
principal of Cleveland Elementary in the Excelsior, which has six new
teachers this year, three of them new to the profession. "We have turnover
every year," she says, "It's stressful trying to find a good fit for the
community and students."

Cleveland tops EdTrust's list of San Francisco elementary schools needing
compensation, with an estimated $151,490. "I don't know if more money would
make a positive impact," says Palomares.

Teacher retention is "about creating an environment where teachers feel like
they're making an impact with children," says Raymond Isola, principal of
Sanchez Elementary, who's written academic papers on school disaffection,
"When we're talking about a community like this, there are incredible needs
and less access to services." Over the eight years he's been at the school,
Isola says, he's worked to create a support network between teachers and
make sure that they're roles are clearly defined. "So if mental health
services are needed, they're there. If a kid doesn't have health insurance,
we have a nurse," he says, "It's important that the teacher know they're not
working alone."

Rich thinks it took him four or five years to become a really good teacher.
"I didn't learn too much from my prep program at SF State," he says,
"certainly not the rocket science of actually teaching someone to read or
write." He's not sure, however, that more money is a way to attract
experienced teachers or improve struggling schools. At Sanchez, he says,
"they got tons of money. Reduced and free lunch, a free nurse, literacy
coach. It was all put to good use. But there's a lot that's out of your
control. It's just so hard."

Seated in Alamo's library, waiting to take yet another certification test,
Rich's passion flares when describing his commitment to diagnosing and
treating dyslexia, something he's certified to do. "I'd go back [to a school
like Sanchez] as a reading specialist or learning pathologist," he says,
"but absolutely not back in the classroom. There's only a certain amount of
energy we're allotted each day."

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