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Connected to the Community

By Marianne Smith and Jan Osborn

In 1996, California reduced class sizes in an attempt to improve reading and mathematics performance. One unanticipated consequence was the hiring of scores of novice teachers unprepared for the challenges of teaching, especially in low-income schools, and more likely to quickly leave the profession. The convergence of increased need, the retirement of record numbers of veteran teachers, and an inability to retain new teachers created a crisis.

The economic costs of teacher turnover are staggering, with the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (2007) estimated costs to schools and districts at more than $7 billion nationally.

Costs to student achievement are not as easily quantified. What is known is that novice teachers are less effective and that high-need schools serving low-income communities of color employ a disproportionate number. With little understanding of the sociocultural context and norms of low-income schools and communities, novice teachers, as noted by University of California-Davis researcher Barbara Merino (2007), are "more vulnerable to holding negative expectations for students who are English learners, or who are from a different race or class."

With data indicating that half of the nation's African American and Latino children are concentrated in segregated, high-poverty schools?schools with low achievement and high drop-out rates?employing and retaining the "right" teachers is paramount.

In Orange County, a community generally associated with palm-lined boulevards, coastal mansions, and Disneyland, students of color make up the majority of the county's public school enrollment and are segregated in low-income neighborhood schools and districts. Spanish, Vietnamese, and Cambodian are common languages in the schools, yet teachers remain predominantly monolingual and white.

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