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Published: 5/8/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Teacher turnover poses threat to learning process

TPS staff exit poor-performing schools at twice the rate of excellent-rated ones

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Malinda Piotrowski, who teaches fifth grade at Rosa Parks Elementary, was bumped there from Byrnedale Middle School. In her first year with the Toledo Public Schools, she was moved among four schools. Malinda Piotrowski, who teaches fifth grade at Rosa Parks Elementary, was bumped there from Byrnedale Middle School. In her first year with the Toledo Public Schools, she was moved among four schools.
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Malinda Piotrowski rolled up the blinds on the double-paned window of her Rosa Parks Elementary classroom, revealing a spiderweb pattern on the outside pane. Someone had broken the window, probably with a BB gun.

Ms. Piotrowski was taking a break, awaiting her fifth-grade students’ return from lunch, when they would delve into math lessons.

This year’s class has been a good one, she said. There’s some defiance in her students, and some “mean girls,” as Ms. Piotrowski put it, but they perform well.

The year could have been worse. She started with 30 students, but the district added another fifth-grade teacher, and now Ms. Piotrowski has 12.

Dealing with 30 fifth graders was “mostly crowd control,” she said.

After 20 years as a teacher in Toledo’s Catholic schools, Ms. Piotrowski moved to TPS in 2002, hoping for better pay.

The better pay came, but so did a dizzying rotation between schools.

This is her first year at Rosa Parks. She was bumped there from Byrnedale Middle School. And it’s not the first time Ms. Piotrowski has been bumped.

In her first year, she was moved among four schools: Fulton, Lincoln, and Newbury elementary schools and Rogers High.

“When you’re bumped year after year, you don’t develop that expertise,” she said. “That’s been the frustration for me.”

Just like student mobility, study after study shows teacher turnover as a key correlative statistic with student performance.

Some education researchers, such as Kacey Gwin of the University of Washington, link constant changes in teaching staff to reduced morale among faculty, stymied professional development, and reduced trust and familiarity among students, teachers, and parents.

At many schools with abnormal rates of teacher turnover, staff members are relatively young, inexperienced, and ineffective.

Stringent seniority rules in teacher union contracts are commonly blamed for the turnover.

Teachers who can leave poor-performing schools do so when they can, leaving those schools with new hires filling their ranks. Those new teachers are the first to be let go during layoffs because of last-in, first-out rules.

In Toledo, records show that teachers annually leave the poorest-performing schools at twice the rate of excellent-rated schools.

A school’s working climate has a major influence on teacher movement, said Francine Lawrence, president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. Many teachers depart low-performing schools — leaving them staffed with inexperienced teachers — because they feel that building administrators are weak leaders or don’t support them.

“Teachers are willing to work in challenging situations,” Ms. Lawrence said, “if they have an effective principal.”

As with most education-related statistics, it’s hard to argue causation, instead of correlation, with teacher turnover data and academic performance.

But in individual cases, staff say the extreme rotation of teachers and principals and staff does hurt.At Spring Elementary, for example staff members are on their fourth principal in the past year and a half.

Pickett, which jettisoned two-thirds of its staff in 2008, has had continued turmoil. Only a quarter of its teachers have been at the school for more than four years.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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