We have become convinced that in our nation's struggling urban schools, teachers and would-be education reformers are battling through a hurricane that shows no signs of abating. We call this hurricane "churn."
Churn is a remarkable instability among school personnel that makes it nearly impossible to build a professional community or develop long-term relationships with students. It happens when teachers are treated like interchangeable parts who can be moved around cavalierly to plug a hole in a school schedule. It happens when administrators repeatedly order teachers to switch to a different grade, teach a different subject, or move to a different school.
We recently tried to test an idea for improving the middle school science curriculum through a multiyear randomized controlled trial in a big-city public school system. But the constant stream of teachers leaving the classes we were studying made it nearly impossible to get reliable results. After just one year, 42 percent of the teachers in 92 schools who began participating in our study had left it to take other positions within and outside the schools. The instability was about the same in both the intervention group...
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