Although the Washington D.C. school district is holding on to its best-performing teachers at nearly twice the rate of its low-performers, as a recent report indicates, the turnover rates in the district continues to be high enough to cause alarm. The Washington Post reports that too many of the district's best instructors are leaving every year — something that district officials need to fix if they are to continue improving the quality of education for D.C's kids.
The report, titled Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools and authored by The New Teacher Project, surveyed nearly 25% of the district's teachers and draws some conclusions about the reasons behind the high teacher attrition rates. Many of those interviewed said that they've considered leaving both the school and the city because of poor working conditions, underqualified school and district leadership and lack of a good working relationship between instructional staff and the administrators.
More alarming was the finding that many of the best teachers were open to remaining in their jobs — if an effort had been made to retain them. Yet no move in that direction was ever made by anyone in a position to do it. The lack of motivation to meet a teacher half way is expressed by the fact that as many as 2/3 of the D.C. principals don't rank talent retention as a particularly important goal.
Former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee founded TNTP 15 years ago, and Chancellor Kaya Henderson served as vice president. The organization has a contract to provide teacher-recruitment services to D.C. public schools, but no money was spent on this research project. TNTP studied four other urban school systems this year and found little difference in the retention of high-performing and low-performing teachers, as judged by students' progress on standardized tests.
Still, despite the high turnover, the Washington D.C. school district is unique in the fact that its approach to highly effective teachers is much different than the approach used to those who don't perform quite as well. It's 88% retention rate for instructors classified as "highly effective" is exemplary, as is the fact that year-to-year, the district retains only 45% of those rated ineffective or minimally effective.
Overall, more than one in five teachers left at the end of the 2010-11 school year, higher than four other urban school districts TNTP studied, and more than three times the turnover rate in suburban Montgomery County.
"We're very proud of the fact that we're differentially retaining our teachers," said Jason Kamras, the school system's chief of human capital. "That is not a small thing, and that has real benefits for kids. But we certainly acknowledge that we have room to grow."