Yo Teach…! Or how to avoid teaching like Jason

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 20 2012

Is High Teacher Turnover in Low-Income Schools Inevitable?

I think a very important question skeptics of TFA recent reform efforts need to grapple with is whether teacher turnover is inevitable in low-income schools that produce dramatic results. Many of the most successful charter school chains (KIPP, Uncommon) assume that most teachers will not stay for longer than five years due to natural burnout. I argued previously that we need to accept the reality that teacher turnover is an inevitable reality and that TFA helps to address this problem (though temporarily) by injecting the system with people who are willing to devote the extraordinary time necessary to achieve results, until some kind of national or state reforms (most likely requiring dramatic increases in funding) can make teaching a more sustainable career.

In a recent post, Walt Gardner points out that teacher turnover rates can vary wildly as a result of reforms. Only 45% of teachers in Washington D.C., which has had very dramatic reforms over the past decade, remain in the profession after their first two years; nationally that same percent remain after five years. Of course, it’s an unfair comparison when considering the poverty rate of DC compared to the rest of the United States, but his point calls into question my assumption that some kind of major injection of cash into our school system is needed to reduce turnover rates.

I think a useful avenue to research for those interested in saving/rebuilding the possibility of “professional career teachers” is to look at schools, school districts, states, or even charter school networks in low-income areas that are able to boast both very strong academic growth as well as lower than average teacher turnover and trying to figure out how this is happening (is it more funding? Collaborative lesson planning? Small classes? Blended learning?).

If anyone finds examples, share them and speculate. I will certainly do the same.

3 Responses

  1. So long as we accept the inevitability of high-minority, high-poverty schools in the first place, the answer to your inquiry is yes- and we are all doomed.

    I recommend this article: http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/06/19/my-view-six-ways-to-retain-great-teachers/

  2. meghank

    The school I teach at in a low-income area had very low turnover for a number of years. This past year half of the teachers have transferred to other schools, and the year before many other teachers left. I don’t know what caused the low turnover rate that was the norm for so many years, but I can tell you what caused this sudden turnover of staff: The new teacher evaluations in Tennessee penalize K-3 teachers whose schools do not make progress, such that half of our evaluations are our school’s value-added scores. It was the K-2 teachers who left this year, nearly every one of them. Naturally, the K-3 teachers in the low-performing schools are now going to transfer out of those schools, if they have the experience necessary, and go to schools that have better school-wide value-added. Staff turnover in Tennessee’s low-income schools is about to get much, much worse.

  3. Hannah

    Check out the Chicago Council on Foreign Affair’s recent report on education by their Emerging Leaders Program. It has a great section on what causes teacher retention that has been demonstrate in academic studies. As I recall, the biggest things are safety, collaboration, support, and a couple other school-level factors. None of them had to do with the income of students or district-level reforms. So I’d wager that yes, it is possible, although it requires dedicated work on behalf of principals who are thinking about retention as a prime goal.

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