In Dallas and Across Texas, Teachers Keep Leaving Jobs as Fast as They Take Them

Last month, Dallas Independent School District held its annual job fair to fill roughly 2,000 open positions for the 2014-2015 school year. The fair at Conrad High School was stuffed to the brim with eager college graduates, jaded career changers and Dallas newcomers. By mid-morning nearly half the positions had been filled.

But DISD human resources exec Carmen Darville said at the time that although the district expected to fill the 2,000 spots, there would likely be another wave of openings later in the summer as teachers continued leaving their posts.

Dallas' teacher turnover rate is high, but not unusually so -- not for Texas, anyway. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reports that Texas will likely fall short of its new teacher certification goal next year, and that as many as half of new teachers will leave the profession within five years.

Dallas' poor retention rates, of course, can be a good thing if departing teachers are underqualified and underperforming. But year after year, Dallas is faced with a teacher shortage when scores of teachers leave -- often for higher-paying jobs in less challenging environments -- and the district is forced to hire another stream of young teachers.

The problem is particularly striking among district bilingual teachers. At the job fair last month, Darville described a scenario that seemed to boil down to: If you can speak Spanish and you have a teacher's certification, you're hired. That was an exaggeration, but it drives home the desperate shortage facing districts across the state in this crucial area.

A state Senate education committee is currently considering suggestions on how to combat the problem. Included in proposals are better certification requirements and recruitment incentives such as higher pay and a more generous loan forgiveness policy. In Dallas ISD, there's already a bonus signing incentive in place for certain subjects, and this year marks the first of the district's new performance-based pay system.

State Senators Judith Zaffirini and Kel Seliger are spearheading the discussion, and will likely lead a legislative agenda for the upcoming session. "Education is all workforce preparation and life preparation," Seliger told reporters upon his appointment to the committee last week. "My hope is that the work of this committee will help to further integrate K-16 with the demands of our growing and progressive state."

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Emily Mathis