Achieving “High Quality” in the Selection, Preparation and Retention of Teachers

Jul 16, 2012 by

Martin Haberman is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (1932-2012)

Martin Haberman is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (1932-2012)
By 2002, he had prepared more teachers than any other educator in American history; he continued , until 2012, to do so in the MTEC Program designed for preparing mid-career individuals wanting to teach in the Milwaukee Public Schools. His publication from Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society,“ Star Teachers Serving Children in Poverty” had sold more copies than any other publication in KDP history. (Mike Wolfe, Ex. Director, KDP International 2001) The Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc. was chartered to continue his life long search of “finding the best teachers and principals for the children and youth of America, especially those at risk of failure in today’s public schools. To this end, the labor of the staff at the Haberman Foundation has not gone un-noticed. They have trained administrators in over 360 of the nations largest school districts to select teachers and principals who fit the profile of his researched- based star teacher /principal interview processes. We hope this document will bring new incites to how we could solve the problems in teacher education today for the large numbers of children in poverty being served who have little or no control over who will teach them.

Delia Stafford, Founder and President, Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc. 4018 Martinshire Drive, Houston, Texas 77025

Of the three million or more teacher vacancies predicted for the next decade by The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future a preponderance will be new teachers needed to serve approximately 15 million diverse children in urban and rural poverty. (United States Department of Education, 2000) The phenomenon of an urban district needing thousands of teachers surrounded by suburbs and small towns where there are hundreds of applicants for one position has been a familiar phenomenon for over half a century.

Factors Contributing to the Urban Teacher Shortage

Although the typical age of college graduates has risen from age 22 to age 26, it is still generally true that most of those preparing to teach are college age youth, that is, late adolescents and young adults. Approximately 80% of those preparing to teach are youngsters below age 26 and approximately 20% are older “non-traditional” post baccalaureate students or adults in alternative certification or on-the job training programs. In order to meet the needs in urban poverty districts this balance should be reversed so that the majority of those in teacher training are adults over age 30. My best estimate is that of the approximately 500,000 traditionally prepared teachers under age 26 produced annually by colleges and universities, fewer than 15% (75,000) seek employment in the 120 major urban districts serving approximately 7 million diverse children in poverty. The research based on my Urban Teacher Selection Interview indicates further that of the 15% who are willing to apply to work in urban school districts that only one in ten (or 7,500) of those under aged 26 have the predispositions and ideology to stay long enough (three years or longer) to become successful teachers in urban schools. What this means is that the approximately one half million youngsters under 26 in over 1,200 traditional program of teacher education are supplying the 120 largest urban school districts with about 1.5% of their annual teacher output.

While this is obviously a very small output from traditional teacher preparing institutions it does represent a bloc of young people who do have the potential for teaching diverse children in urban poverty and for whom the doors of the profession must remain open. But should this population of young teachers represented by this 1.5% contribution from the colleges and universities remain the predominant pool of future teachers or should policy makers be looking for other constituencies from which to draw and develop the teachers America needs?

Several factors contribute to this “shortage” of teachers where they are needed most. First, the length of an average teaching career is now down to eleven years. Teachers who pursue lifelong careers as classroom teachers are now clearly in the minority.

Second, is the fact that in many states the majority of those graduated and certified in traditional programs of teacher preparation never take jobs as teachers. In 1998 in my own state 71% of those graduated and certified by colleges and universities did not take jobs as teachers. (Fisher & Swanson,2000) These non-teaching certified graduates are frequently referred to by many experts in teacher education as “fully qualified.” But if they don’t take teaching positions because the jobs are primarily in urban schools serving diverse children in poverty, for what and for whom are these graduates “fully qualified”? In 1999 the SUNY system prepared 17,000 “fully qualified” teachers. The number who applied for teaching positions in New York City that year was zero..

Third, is the number of beginners who take jobs in urban schools but fail or leave. Using data from the National Center for Educational Statistic’s School and Staffing Survey, a respected researcher concluded: “School staffing problems are primarily due to excess demand resulting from a revolving door—where large numbers of teachers depart for reasons other than retirement. (Ingersoll, 2001) This churn of teachers into and out of schools serving diverse children in poverty results in approximately 50% of new teachers leaving urban districts in less than five years. In my own city 50% of the more than 1,000 new teachers hired annually will be gone in three years or less. Most of the leavers quit in the first year. (Haberman and Rickards, 1990)

Fourth, is the shortage of special education teachers. This shortage is exacerbated by the fact that many suburbs, small towns, parochial and private schools contract out the education of their children with special needs to their nearby urban school districts.

Fifth, is a greater numbers of entrance level career opportunities now available to women outside of teaching at the time of college graduation. Many, however, soon discover that they encounter glass ceilings and can only advance in limited ways. After age 30 this population includes many who decide to make more mature decisions than they did at age 20 and seek to become teachers of diverse children in poverty.

Sixth, is the fact that college graduates of color now have greater access to a larger number of entry-level career positions. As with the population of women who perceive greater opportunity for careers of higher status and greater financial reward outside of teaching, this population also frequently experiences glass ceilings after age thirty. African Americans comprise fewer than 6% of all undergraduates in all fields and substantially fewer who decide as youthful undergraduates to pursue traditional university based programs of teacher education. But as career-changers after age thirty, college graduates of color (particularly women) become a primary source of teachers for diverse children in poverty in urban school districts. In my city, the school district employs more African American college graduates than any business or government.

The continuing and worsening teacher shortage must also take note of the special nature of teaching fields such as math and science. Math and science teachers leave at a higher rate than others; they tend to be men seeking better opportunities in other fields. (Murnane, 1996) While the causes of the shortage in these areas have some distinctive dimensions, they are not discussed separately but are included in the analysis of the entire problem. The solutions proposed for the general shortage would also impact on these high need specializations.

Critical Issues Related to the Preparation of “High Quality Teachers”

1.Who determines the meaning of “high quality” using what criteria?


At one extreme “high quality” teachers are described as professional teacher scholars performing mainly intellectual and academic functions. At the other extreme, urban school districts hire and assign teachers-employees to perform functions prescribed largely by custom and proscribed by the mandates of lay school boards. These employees work under conditions they cannot control, with no voice in setting their objectives, time schedules, or criteria of evaluation. In the 120 urban districts they are clearly bureaucratic functionaries in dysfunctional organizations. Such teachers are considered “high quality” if they are effective classroom managers, assignment makers and test tutors. At no point in history has the gap been this wide between the concepts of “high quality” advanced by university-based teacher educators and those responsible for hiring and defining the roles of teachers in urban school districts.

The definition of “high quality” below is held by teacher educators, state departments of education, national associations representing particular scholarly disciplines, the AACTE, NCATE and the NEA. While there is wide divergence even disagreements among these constituencies there is also great consensus regarding the qualities they assign to “high quality” teachers:

1. sustained scholarly achievement in an academic discipline;

2. in-depth knowledge of human development;

3. familiarity with basic theories and constructs dealing with the nature of learning;

4. understanding of the assumptions undergirding different curriculum models;

5. working knowledge of various means for evaluating learning;

6. strategies for teaching children/youth with handicapping conditions in regular classrooms;

7. uses of information systems and technology in instruction;

8. in-depth knowledge of methods for teaching their specific subject matters;

9. strategies for organizing classrooms of students at different achievement levels;

10. expertise in motivating learners;

11. knowledge of self-esteem, its development and strategies for enhancing it;

12. commitment to self reflection and skills for integrating experience into professional self-development;

13. knowledge of basic means for enhancing language development among non-standard speakers and those with limited English;

14. thorough knowledge base related to the history of Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and other culture groups in American society and specific skills for relating to and utilizing this history in the teaching of specific subject matters.

Further, teachers’ knowledge in these areas must be in substantial depth before they can be designated “high quality.” Finally, if one is to put any credence on the extensive summaries of the knowledge base in encyclopedias of teaching and teacher education, this is merely a starter list.

The state teaching licenses issued to those graduates who have been recommended as possessing these bodies of knowledge contain no codicils or reservations and pronounce the bearers fully qualified to implement these knowledge bases with all children and youth, in all forms of schools, in neighborhoods and communities serving all culture groups and economic classes. These criteria of “high quality” lead to the inescapable conclusion that those engaged in offering programs of teacher education seriously believe they are engaged in preparing universally competent professionals. (As usually defined, “professionals” are those who share a common body of knowledge not known to the public and whose practices are based on research. Professionals also determine their own standards of licensure, decide who their clients are, set their own fees and determine the services they will offer, including the time they will spend with clients.)

“High quality” is defined quite differently in practice in the 120 largest urban school districts serving 7 million diverse children in poverty. Again, while there is wide variance in the meanings given to “high quality” in this context, there is also some consensus among the various constituencies represented in the urban schools. Teachers are treated as professionals in only the narrow sense that they are paid. Any reasonable, objective analysis of their actual functioning inevitably leads one to see that they are unionized employees contracted to perform custodial as well as instructional duties defined by custom, law and administrative regulations. Unlike professional practitioners in other fields they do not determine the goals of their services, the content they teach, the numbers of clients they will serve, the materials and equipment they will use, the conditions under which they work, or how they or their students will be evaluated. Like other worker-employees they have no control over their time schedules. In almost all urban schools systems specific curriculum packages and methods are prescribed; an increasing number are even scripted.

The first concern by those responsible for urban schools is not “high quality” in either teaching or curriculum but rather in maintaining an orderly, safe environment. This controlled environment is achieved by regulations dealing with discipline, suspensions and expulsions. The disciplinary procedures of urban schools reflect both school traditions and the knowledge base of experts in the fields of criminal justice and public safety. Little of the educational knowledge base cited above shapes or even influences the climate and life in urban schools.

If one disregards quitter/failure teachers, and even satisfactory ones, and considers only teachers about whom there is a consensus that they are performing at a high level, “high quality” teaching in urban schools refers to a clear set of craft skills. Teachers identified as effective may demonstrate a superficial not an in-depth knowledge of only some of the 14 areas of knowledge cited above. Essentially, the craft that teachers demonstrate reflects their ideologies and belief systems not an organized knowledge base or body of research. Their craft is built on a set of skills for relating to and connecting with diverse children in poverty. These skills are not universal but situation-specific and demonstrated with particular culture groups. Most of all these skills are performed in mindless bureaucracies, organized and functioning in ways which are antithetic to the knowledge base in teaching and learning. Although the craft skills of effective teachers are clearly observable, they cannot be performed by most certified, licensed teachers deemed to be “high quality” by the first definition, or by experts in teacher preparation, although connoisseurs of teaching are more likely to appreciate and understand these skills.

II. What is the relative importance of selection vs. training in the preparation of teachers for diverse children in poverty?


Traditional criteria used to select candidates into teacher preparation programs predict those who will complete college requirements or who will pass state tests for licensure. I would argue that admission criteria should instead predict who will be effective with diverse children in poverty and who will remain as their teachers for substantial periods.

Teacher attrition increases as the number of minority students increases. (Rollefson, 1990) Quitters and leavers cannot connect with, establish rapport, or reach diverse children in urban poverty because at bottom they do not respect and care enough about them to want to be their teachers. The students sense these ideologies and perceptions and respond in kind by not wanting them to be their teachers. Contrary to the popular debates on what teachers need to know to be effective, teachers in urban schools do not quit because they lack subject matter or pedagogy. Quitters and leavers know how to divide fractions and they know how to write lesson plans. They leave because they cannot connect with the students and it is a continuous, draining hassle for them to try to keep students on task. In a very short period leavers are emotionally and physically exhausted from struggling against resisting students for six hours every day. In 45 years of making classroom observations of failing teachers I have never found an exception to this condition: if there is a disconnect between the teacher and the students no mentoring, coaching, workshop, or class on discipline and classroom management can provide the teacher with the magic to control children s/he does not genuinely respect and care about. Applying the term “fully qualified” to those who have completed approved programs of teacher education but have not yet taught as teachers of record is a very serious misrepresentation. It leads the uninitiated to believe that those who have completed approved programs and who pass tests of subject matter and pedagogy are “fully qualified” to connect with and teach diverse children in poverty in urban school districts.

In teaching diverse children in poverty in highly regulated school organizations, the criteria typically used to define the “best and brightest” are powerful, valid predictors of failures and quitters. The majority of early leavers are individuals with higher I.Q.s, GPAs, and standardized test scores than those who stay; more have also had academic majors. (Darling-Hammond and Sclan, 1996) Teachers who earn advanced degrees within the prior two years leave at the highest rates. (Boe et al, 1997) Those who see teaching as primarily an intellectual activity are eight times more likely to leave the classroom. (Quartz et al, 2001) In 1963 my Milwaukee Intern Program became the model for the National Teacher Corps. In the ten years (1963-1972) of the Corps’ existence approximately 100,000 college graduates with high GPAs were prepared for urban teaching. While many stayed in education, fewer than 5% remained in the classroom for more than three years. (Corwin, 1973) This was the largest, longest study ever done in teacher education. That the shibboleth “best and brightest” survives is testimony to the fact that many prefer to maintain the belief that doing well in college predicts success in subsequent practice. There is no correlation between doing well in any field of professional preparation and effectiveness in the subsequent practice of it. (Heath,1977)

While being an effective teacher of diverse children in poverty has some intellectual and academic aspects, it is primarily a human relation’s activity demanding the ability to make and maintain positive, supportive connections with diverse children, school staff and caregivers. The term “best and the brightest” might be more appropriately used to refer to individuals who can actually demonstrate the propensity to connect with and cause diverse children in poverty to learn in the midst of mindless bureaucracies. Beyond describing college youth who earn high GPAs and do well on written tests of teaching, the term is essentially meaningless. Those threatened by this view misconstrue my advocacy to mean that I believe that knowledge of subject matter and knowledge of teaching are unimportant. Not so. There is substantial research and no question that teachers who know more English usage and who have greater knowledge of the subject matters they teach, have children who learn more. But it is only after their propensity to relate to diverse children in poverty has been demonstrated that the teacher’s knowledge of subject matter and how to teach can become relevant.

What this means in practice is that the institution or cooperative that does the initial selection has to utilize not only interviews with predictive validity but direct experiences in order to actually observe candidates interacting with and trying to connect with children and youth. To stop the churn of teachers coming and going, teacher education candidates should be required to demonstrate their ability to relate to diverse children in poverty as an admission criterion, not after they have been declared “fully qualified” and been made teachers of record in a real school. I have found that observing candidates teach children in summer school, prior to entrance into training, is the most efficient means of selecting those who will succeed with diverse, poverty students and remain in urban schools for any substantial period. Currently, the employing urban school districts must screen for this ability to connect because the training programs have not.

This raises the more basic issue of whether future teachers (or anyone) can be taught to connect with diverse children in poverty or whether this is an attribute learned from mature reflection about one’s life experiences after one has had some life experiences. If it is, as I believe, the latter then it is an attribute that must be selected for and not assumed to be the result of completing university coursework. Indeed, there is substantial evidence that college courses and direct experiences reinforce rather than change teacher education students’ positive or negative predisposition to connect with diverse children in poverty. (Haberman, 1991) Our observations reflect what our minds have already decided upon. Through the process of selective perception positively predisposed candidates learn and grow during their training programs while negatively predisposed candidates utilize the same experiences to regress, i.e. they become narrower, more rigid and less accepting. This is also true of inservice teachers. (Sleeter, 1992) The need to select the right people initially rather than assume that training programs will change candidates in important ways is the greatest weakness in teacher education and my strongest advocacy for change.

III. Should the knowledge and concepts drawn from educational psychology continue to serve as the primary knowledge base for understanding child development, learning and normal behavior, or should other ways of knowing be included in more substantial ways?


The knowledge base purporting to explain child development, how children learn and what constitutes normal behavior that is offered in traditional programs of teacher education is derived from the field of psychology where the unit of study and analysis is the individual. Too often, what is regarded as normal behavior is based on what white school psychologists and teachers believe to be normal behavior and development. For example; future teachers are taught that it is not normal for children to sit quietly all day. In my city there is a large population of Hmong children who sit quietly all day and are a source of great concern to the teachers who place more credence on psychological definitions of normal and on their own prejudices, than on what they see acted out in front of them all day everyday by perfectly normal children of a different culture.

It is not accidental that in my own city of Milwaukee with over 103,000 children in public schools that there are 17,000 children, mostly African American and mostly male, identified as emotionally disturbed, cognitively disabled or handicapped in some way. The fact that parents in poverty are enticed by state and federal programs of financial aid if they agree to have their children labeled as handicapped is little known and rarely mentioned. Neither is the fact that 145 school psychologists assisted by 100 Diagnostic Teachers receive more than 1,000 referrals from classroom teachers every year. Further, school children, once labeled in primary grades, never get unlabeled in upper grades even when they subsequently earn good grades or pass the eighth grade tests for high school admission. In effect the school psychologists in my city would have us believe that 16% or one out of six of our children are abnormal. And that it will perfectly acceptable, given the referral rate, if by 2012, 25% or one out of four of our children will be labeled as handicapped in some way. In effect, “fully qualified” teachers prepared in traditional university based programs are systematically trained to view many of their children as somehow lacking, deviant, or having special needs. It is certainly understandable that new teachers unable to connect with and manage their students will see things that are wrong with the children and their families rather than the inadequacies in themselves. Trapped by biased, culture-bound definitions of how normal children should develop, behave and learn language, it is inevitable that teachers would refer children they cannot connect with for testing to equally limited school psychologists who then provide the backup test scores and psychological evaluations to show that these children are not capable of functioning in normal ways.

A more complete teacher education would utilize multiple knowledge bases for explaining human development and behavior in addition to psychology. Understanding and utilizing basic constructs from the fields of linguistics, anthropology, economics, environmental studies and comparative religion would lead to a fuller understanding of human development, to many more valid predictions of how children will behave and to definitions of normal behavior that would be more reflective of in-depth scholarship and ethics in a free, multicultural society.

Closely related to this need for a broadened content base is the issue of multicultural teacher education. Unfortunately, there is much less going on in this field than meets the eye. The demographic background is well known: 40% of the current school population is now from racially and culturally diverse groups and will reach 57% by 2035; Hispanics are the largest growing school population; and over 80% of the children in poverty are children of color. At the same time teachers are 86% white. (Hodgkinson,2002).

While some multicultural education curricula has been widely adopted their impact in programs of teacher education is weak.(Gollnick,1995; Zeichner,1996) Less frequently discussed is the specific content to be added that would be of most worth for teachers of diverse children and youth. Many advocates of multiculturalism argue for teachers gaining a greater historical, economic and anthropological knowledge base which could then be used in simplified form with children. On the other hand, a growing number believe that multicultural education content has already been marginalized in teacher education programs. They advocate focusing on issues of equity and justice and for directly working for greater equal educational and life opportunities. Their definition of “high quality” would be preparing teachers who would infuse social action activities throughout the curricula they offer children and youth.

The gap between the content offered bilingual teachers in typical programs of preparation and the performance competencies required of them in effective schools is extremely wide. Their university coursework suggests they will be linguistic experts. Their practice demonstrates they are harassed test tutors getting children ready to take achievement tests in two languages. When successful bilingual programs in Houston, Miami, Oakland and elsewhere are examined, it is clear that “high quality” bilingual teachers are engaging in behaviors which create a highly supportive school community. “High quality” bilingual teachers demonstrate that the child is not the client but the child and his/her family are. The teacher education that undergirds this behavior involves creating a similar supportive, peer community for the trainees in bilingual training programs. In our training programs there is a very close bonding created among very culturally diverse Hispanic candidates which they then seek to implement in their subsequent practice. My own work in Houston where our carefully selected teachers turned a failing school for Hispanic children into a highly successful one involved creating a totally supportive environment for children and their families. Everyone, not just the bilingual teachers, spoke Spanish and could communicate with all the children in the school as well as with parents. Such totally supportive school community environments are the basis for advancing achievement in English as well as in all the content areas.

IV. Are the clients of teacher education programs university students in preparation programs or the children/youth to be served? What are the implications of the answer to this question for entrance criteria and exit criteria?


The clients of teacher preparation are not students in programs of teacher education but the diverse children in poverty in urban schools who need effective teachers. This change of focus causes many shifts in practice, the most notable being that teacher candidates will be put through selection and training procedures that result in significantly more of them self selecting out or being failed before they are licensed.

The great shortage of teachers does not mean that standards should be lowered but that they must be raised. Teachers who will be effective and who will remain are individuals who not only have knowledge of subject matter and pedagogy but who can connect with diverse children in poverty and can function under adverse working conditions.

Candidates should not be admitted into programs of teacher education because they have passed the traditional selection criteria at a college or university. In my programs the local urban school district first processes candidates through their selection procedures. Only those about whom the district is willing to state, “We will hire these individuals after they complete their preparation.” are candidates admitted to preparation programs. This notion is alien to the way university based programs of preparation are administered and are financed. While it is a procedure that works for intern programs offered in cooperation with urban school districts, it would require major restructuring in the colleges and universities which prepare most of the nation’s teachers.

Giving school districts serving diverse children in poverty major voice in the selection process would inevitably cause changes in the exit criteria as well. The schools would be selecting candidates they regard as willing and able to offer the curricula and methods required in the particular district. Such alignment between entrance and exit criteria based on a school district’s practices would contravene what many faculty believe is their academic freedom to focus on universal best practice. For example, in my evaluation of the intern program offered in the New York City schools, I found that the school district pays each cooperating university $12,500 in tuition for a masters degree for each intern employed as a teacher. The “cooperating” university faculty I interviewed denigrated the particular reading, math and science curricula required in the public schools and taught their own visions of best practice. These university faculty felt no responsibility to teach curricula and methods of which they disapproved simply because their students were required to teach those curricula. They defined their responsibilities by defining the interns as masters degree students not as employees of the New York City schools. The interns I interviewed referred to their masters programs as “the world’s greatest preparation for the best of all non-existent worlds.”

V. Should the problem of securing and retaining high quality teachers who stay be defined as one of inadequacies of preparation or as a retention issue reflecting conditions of work in urban school districts?


While I have argued that teachers leave primarily because they cannot connect with children it is necessary to recognize that the conditions under which beginning teachers work do present formidable obstacles. In some urban schools conditions are so horrific that they drive out not only those who should never have been hired but many who have the potential for becoming effective teachers and even stars. The problem faced by policy makers is whether the strategy of recruiting and training more mature people who can succeed in schools as they presently are is a better strategy than continuing to focus on traditional populations of teachers who we can predict will not take urban jobs or stay long if they do, and try to change the conditions of work in these schools.

In my own city we train beginning teachers who are often expected to work under conditions that are medieval: over 30 students in a class including eight students with handicapping conditions, insufficient, outdated textbooks, no dictionaries, no paper, no access to a copier that works, no computers connected to the internet, science rooms without running water or any materials, no parking, no closet that locks, or even a hook for teachers to hang up a coat. When I recently asked a principal to provide a teacher with some chalk he replied, “The teachers knew how much money we had for supplies and they chose to use it up by October. What do you want from me?” My teacher spent $50 of her own money on chalk which was stolen the next day because she had no place to secure it. This teacher, carefully selected as someone who could survive in a mindless bureaucracy, didn’t seem particularly upset and rationalized the event by saying, “Middle school kids don’t steal chalk so it was probably another teacher who needed it and will put it to good use”. Teachers in this city spend an average of $600 dollars a year of their own money on supplies. (Haberman,1998) . Observing the equipment, supplies and materials that urban teachers typically have to work with frequently leads one to question whether these teachers are working in the United States of America. In 2001 I visited schools in New York City on behalf of the New York State Department of Education. These classrooms were exactly like the ones I was in as a child in the same city 65 years ago. The only difference was that there was an electric clock on the wall. In this financial and cultural world center I observed many caring, well-intentioned beginners whose only teaching material was chalk, a blackboard and paper already used on one side. Many of our urban schools function as isolated third world outposts in the midst of a 21st century technological society.

But these are not the full extent of the negative conditions facing beginning teachers. Getting through urban school’s archaic personnel systems to be hired, securing an assignment to a particular school and classroom, and then meeting the never-ending paperwork and clerical demands wear any reasonable person down in short order. Added to this is the problem of trying to teach in classrooms which experience an average of 120 interruptions per week (Delgadillo, 1992). The mindless, overpowering bureaucracies of urban school districts seem organized for the express purpose of driving out the beginners who care the most and retaining only the strong insensitives; that is, those who are inured to and can cope with the bureaucracy in spite of the fact they don’t empathize or connect with the children.

Unfortunately, status studies and summaries of these conditions do not change or improve them. Advocating what should be does not change the nature of what urban schools are or will be. We may all agree that the conditions of work faced by beginners are a critical determinant in driving out many with high potential but the critical question remains; is it likely that these conditions will improve or worsen? Consider the prognosis for just five of the most commonly cited negative conditions of work: salaries, safety, class size, principals and testing. Given health costs that double every four years and other increasing costs which systems cannot control, how likely is it that these districts will be able to pay teachers substantially more? While smaller classes are required in a few states they tend to be unfunded mandates focused on primary grades. Many middle schools have classes over 30 with up to 8 inclusion students. Safety as a condition of work can be expected to consume more time and resources not less. The shortage of principals who will function as supportive, effective instructional leaders rather than as building managers is likely to worsen since the conditions under which these individuals are expected to work are even more stressful than those of teachers. Testing programs will increase in the intense control they exert over teachers time and effort. If these are the five negative conditions of work cited most by teacher leavers, and if it is likely they will worsen, what is the basis for expecting that efforts to transform urban schools will be more successful in the future than in the past? Against this background of failure is the very strong record of recruiting mature adults, including minorities, who will succeed and stay in urban districts under present conditions.

Considering the working conditions beginning teachers say they need or would like versus those they regard as debilitating, the likelihood is far greater that the negative conditions will not only continue but also worsen. What this means for securing teachers who will stay and become effective is clear. While all constituencies must do everything possible to try and improve the conditions under which beginning urban teachers work we cannot be naïve at the expense of children in poverty schools. The need is for teachers who can be effective with today’s children and youth in today’s schools. We cannot take the pious position that it is unfair or even immoral for beginning teachers to function in today’s schools and therefore we as teacher educators cannot be held accountable for who they select or how they are trained until the urban schools are first transformed. There are real children, spending the only childhood they will ever have going to these schools everyday. Demanding that the schools improve before effective teachers can be prepared for such places will sacrifice the education of 14 million children while we wait for change agents who have been extremely unsuccessful up to now. The most prudent policy must assume that whether these schools stay the same, or get even worse, we will use what we know to recruit and prepare caring teachers who will make a difference immediately

Other critical issues not discussed in this brief paper include: program accountability, universal versus urban licenses, power to admit and deselect, using adult learning and experiences, technology, testing and performance for licensure.

What are the Attributes of Effective Teachers of Diverse Children in Urban Poverty.

More than 100 urban districts hire over 25,000 teachers annually utilizing the Urban Teacher Selection Interview. Over the last decade the seven functions outlined below have been developed into interview protocols. This large annual sample reveals that of college graduates who would like to try teaching in urban districts, 3 out of ten over 30 years of age and 1 out of ten under 25 year of age pass the selection interview. Pintrich’s (1990) landmark summary of the research on the learning and development of college students and its implications for teacher education is a meta-analysis which, to my knowledge, no college or university program of teacher education has ever utilized in developing its program. Reasonable people cannot read Pintrich’s summary of what is known about human development and learning and still focus on young adults as the primary source of teachers. Using any respectable theory of human development leads to the same conclusion. For white, middle class females growing up in American society there is no more inappropriate stage of life to prepare for teaching than young adulthood. Given the personal development of youthful males the demands of teaching are an even greater mismatch.

The functions evaluated in this interview are as follows.

Persistence refers to the effective teacher’s continuous search for what works best for individuals and classes. Part of this persistence involves problem solving and creative effort. The manifestation of this quality is that no student goes unnoticed or can stay off-task for very long. Effective teachers never give up on trying to engage every student.

Protecting learners and learning refers to making children’s active involvement in productive work more important than curriculum rigidities and even school rules. Effective teachers not only recognize all the ways in which large school organizations impinge on students but find ways to make and keep learning the highest priority.

Application of generalizations refers to the teacher’s ability to translate theory and research into practice. Conversely, it also refers to the teacher’s ability to understand how specific behaviors support concepts and ideas about effective teaching. This dimension predicts the teacher’s ability to benefit from professional development activities.

Approach to at-risk students deals with the teacher’s perceptions of the causes for and solutions to youngsters being behind in basic skills. Effective teachers see poor schooling as a major cause. They are also willing to assume personal accountability for their students’ learning in spite of the fact that they cannot control all the in-school and out-of-school influences on their students.

Professional versus personal orientation to students refers to whether teachers see teaching as a way to have children meet the teacher’s emotional needs. Quitter/failures have a different set of expectations than effective teachers regarding how they expect to relate to children. They find it difficult to maintain respect and care about children who may do things they regard as despicable.

Burnout: its causes and cures predicts the likelihood the teacher will survive in an urban school bureaucracy. The candidates with no understanding and expectations regarding burnout are most likely to be victims.

Fallibility refers to the teacher’s willingness to admit mistakes and correct them. This dimension of teacher behavior establishes the classroom climate and how students respond to their mistakes in the process of learning.

Seven functions which also discriminate between effective and failing teachers in urban settings which are not on the interview are the following:

– explanation of success, the demonstrated belief that students’ effort rather than presumed ability accounts for success;

– high expectations, the demonstrated belief that all the children can be successful once engaged and appropriately taught;

– organizational ability, the willingness to plan daily, gather materials and set up a workable classroom;

– physical/emotional stamina, the ability to persist with commitment and enthusiasm after instances of student violence, death and other crises;

– teaching style, the predisposition to engage in diversified methodologies in addition to direct instruction;

– ownership, the predisposition to involve students in ways that give them voice and lead them to believe it is their classroom;

– multi-tasking, the ability to do several things simultaneously for sustained periods.

What Policy Makers Should Assume as They Plan to Improve the Supply of High Diverse Children in Urban School Districts?

1. Urban school staffs will continue to implement the public’s narrow vision of what should be accomplished in urban school with “other people’s children” i.e. “Get a job and stay our of jail.”

2. The knowledge of most worth in urban schools will remain what is tested for.

3. There will be an increase in high stakes testing for determining who passes from middle to high school and who graduates from high school.

4. The achievement gap will not be closed but become more widely accepted as a permanent and natural condition.

5. The number of students designated as having a handicapping condition and the number of inclusion students will continue to increase.

6. The climate in urban schools will continue to be dominated by issues of safety and by teacher-student interactions more reflective of custodial institutions than places of learning.

7. Uncontrollable costs of health care combined with increasing costs of heating and safety will continue to take precedence over increasing the salary of teachers or providing needed instructional equipment and supplies.

8. The problems of dropouts and teen age pregnancy will continue to be “solved” by an expanded use of the GED.

9. Given the foregoing, the working conditions for beginners in urban schools will continue to worsen.

10. Young, white, female monolingual, non-urban graduates with little or no experience in the world of work will continue to be the primary clients of university based teacher education programs.

11. The current U.S. Department of Education will continue to focus on identifying failing schools and on supporting charter and voucher schools. They will continue to support efforts for basing teacher licensure on tests of only subject matter knowledge.

12. Urban school districts will expand their reliance on alternative certification and on-the-job training in cooperation with local universities. Long tern subs will remain the basic staff in many failing urban schools.

13. There will be a spurt of private, profit-making companies offering state approved teacher education programs contracting with an increasing number of urban districts in several states. More districts will contract out their recruiting and hiring functions.


Making these assumptions supports some initiative and makes others problematic. Following are suggestions that should make a difference in the number and quality of teachers for diverse children in poverty in urban school districts.

1. New forms of teacher education addressing the needs of the growing population of diverse children in poverty, trapped in failing school districts, need to be developed. The current war between the advocates of university controlled teacher education versus advocates of alternative certification will not result in one side wiping out the other, nor in improving the quality, number or retention of teachers. A structure establishing dialogue and cooperation which would adapt the best elements of both approaches needs to be organized.

2. Multiple pathways into teaching need to be developed and expanded which will emphasize recruiting populations of adults with the predisposition to relate to children in poverty, foster learning and survive in urban school bureaucracies. Having extensive work and child related experiences must be dealt with as assets, not as intrusions in the teacher education program.

3.Recruiting should focus on populations of college graduates, particularly minorities who are committed to the local metropolitan area and its children, and less on populations of young, transient, temporary teachers passing through the school system on their way to “finding themselves.”

4. The knowledge base exists for transforming individual urban schools into successful ones using particular urban teacher education models. The focus of change must be on particular school buildings and the constituencies they serve as the unit of analysis. Focus on transforming total systems will merely replicate the long-term, expensive failure of major foundations and government grants seeking to transform urban districts. (Clark,2001)

5. New forms of local cooperatives involving higher education, school districts, unions, state departments, ethnic communities and the business sector need to set policy for teacher preparation program which are locally focused on specific urban schools.

6. The cooperatives created to oversee teacher education must include systems for holding all partners accountable for teacher performance and student achievement..


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End Note:

Over 40% of the 3.2 million teachers teach in six states: California, New York, Illinois, Florida, Texas and Ohio. 2/3 are elementary. My best estimate is that app. 3.2 million new teachers will be hired by 2012 for the reasons cited in the paper. Some states will produce an over supply( Conn., Minn., N.Y., Pa., and Wis.). Other states will require more than they produce.(Cal., Fla., Nev. and Texas) But the real shortage exists within states in urban and rural schools serving children in poverty. Depending on the state, between 2/3 and 3/4 of the more than 300,000 new hires each year will be in schools serving predominantly diverse children in poverty. While there are ongoing shortages in math, science and special education these schools will need even more bilingual, early childhood, elementary and middle school teachers.

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