I’m playing People’s Reporter for the day, taking your tips and questions. Allow me to pose a question back to my readers.

The second story in our series about teacher placement looked at why teachers leave schools.

Our analysis found that they were more likely to leave poor schools, yet many poor schools had conquered the problem and some wealthier schools still suffered from it.

We found that many teachers ultimately left because they felt powerless, not simply because poorer schools were tougher. So what would it take to draw more teachers to disadvantaged schools? Former Superintendent Carl Cohn relayed this anecdote during an interview about teacher placement:

During my first year in San Diego, I called together all the National Board certified teachers and asked them at a hotel — what would it take for you to leave the safe confines of your current assignment and come to a school where the district really needs your skills?

They had questions about what kind of support they would get at the new school. They were very, very focused on what would this new principal be like. Would the person be supportive of classroom teachers? Rather than having a single miracle worker come by themselves, would the district allow a cadre of teachers to come? Would they perhaps be able to spend some time working with other teachers?

But the real eye opener for me — they put me on the spot and said, ‘Are you aware that the most tyrannical principals in the district are at the schools that you’d like us to transfer to?’ I said no.

So I went back and asked my cabinet … was that true? And they said, ‘Well, yes.’ Back in 2003, they were told to kick ass, take names and get those scores up. I doubt that that’s the case now. But I think anybody who’s really looking at this really needs to figure this out.

One of the things that was interesting to me — the teachers were not very focused on extra money, or that sort of thing. The business ideology model is suggesting that you should give people extra money. I don’t see any indication that money is first and foremost the critical factor in whether or not a teacher is going to change schools.

So let me throw it open to readers: What do you think? Is Carl Cohn wrong about money being a good incentive? The next superintendent to take over San Diego Unified, Terry Grier, was a proponent of paying teachers more to work in hard-to-staff schools, which he had done in North Carolina. But what do you think? What are the best incentives to help disadvantaged schools lure and keep teachers?

I’m especially interested in concrete ideas. Balboa Elementary, which we visited for our story, has a nonprofit-run daycare that teachers can place their children in. We know that teachers want to be in schools where they have a voice and the resources to do their work well — but what does that look like?

Let’s start a digital brainstorming session. Post your ideas here at Schooled or e-mail them to me at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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