Analysis of the DC District IMPACT Data

Dana Goldstein, a Brooklyn-based journalist, Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, and Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute looks at a new report on IMPACT by the Democrats for Education Reform at her blog.

One-third of all teachers on the payroll in September 2007 no longer work for the district, and inexperienced teachers are more clustered than ever in low-income schools and neighborhoods, writes Goldstein.

The district's own data shows that 22 percent of teachers with six to 10 years of experience are rated "highly effective," compared to just 12 percent of teachers with less than six years experience.

However, if inexperienced teachers are replacing grossly incompetent ones then is the turnover a good thing? Is the district flushing out its bad teachers from the classroom?

Goldstein recommends that you read Bill Turque's analysis of Michelle Rhee's legacy one year after she left the D.C. public schools system. Turque writes about the "churn and burn" culture since the introduction of the controversial IMPACT teacher evaluation and merit pay system.

Goldstein wants to put the "one-third attrition" stat in context. If you look at how IMPACT evaluated DC's 4,000 teachers' union members during the 2010-2011 school year:

2 percent of teachers were rated "ineffective" and immediately terminated.

Another 2 percent were rated "minimally effective" two years in a row and then terminated.

These two groups account for about 200 teachers. And so the 4% found here hardly starts to make up the one-third that has been shifted.

Goldstein points out that even if every single teacher rated "minimally effective" for just one year had quit, these three problematic categories would account for only 17 percent of the teacher corps–about half the actual four-year attrition rate.

These IMPACT figures are a snapshot from a single school year and, as Turque has reported, D.C. does not release the number of teachers who don't come back to work from spring to the following fall.

However, what we can see from the available data, it is clear to Goldstein that the majority of teachers leaving D.C. are currently "effective" or at least have the potential to become effective teachers over time.

Goldstein believes the longterm question on IMPACT and other new evaluation plans is whether promising teachers choose to stick around to work under these systems.

"Of course, some teacher attrition is inevitable, since teachers retire, move away, and go on maternity leave. But the average yearly teacher attrition rate in a low-poverty American public school is 12.9 percent, compared to 20 percent in a high-poverty school."

Goldstein suggests that a good test of reform is whether it improves the retention of effective teachers and not just concentrate on whether it results in the firing of ineffective ones.

"The evidence from DC is mixed, since many more teachers are leaving the District than have been deemed ineffective or unlikely to improve. At the same time, those who choose to stay despite the challenges and tumult seem to be gaining some professional development benefits."

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