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.