Um, Teacher Retention Is Not Just A DCPS Problem

Quick: Did you hear about the DC public school that lost more than half its teachers after the start of school year 2015-16?

No, I am not talking about DCPS’s Ballou high school–which, as the Post recently reported, lost 28% of its teachers this just-completed school year.

Rather, I am talking about a whole host of DC charter schools with high teacher attrition rates in the previous school year, like Achievement Preparatory Academy (57.8% teacher attrition rate) and Friendship’s Tech Prep (Tech Prep Middle, 63%; Tech Prep HS, 52%) and KIPP’s AIM (63%), Lead (58%), and WILL schools (62%)–not to mention Perry Street Prep (62.5%), SEED (52.6%), and Washington Global (60%). Then there are a few charter schools whose reported attrition rates I find difficult to believe and that I hope were mis-reported teacher retention rates: Inspired (70.3%) and Richard Wright (87%). The annual reports indicated that the teacher attrition was determined after the start of the school year.

Hmm: Didn’t hear about those?

Having gone through the 59 charter school annual reports for SY15-16 posted on the charter board website in which the attrition rates were reported, I put those rates into a spreadsheet.

(Happily, I didn’t have to request this data through FOIA—like the Post had to for DCPS. OTOH, teacher attrition rates at DC’s charter schools for this school year do not appear available—yet. And past years appear unavailable electronically–at least without a FOIA request. Win some, lose some.)

While some of DC’s charter schools had teacher retention rates greater than 80% (and a few had 100% retention rates), those are only about a third of the total reporting for that school year. About a quarter of the reported charter schools had teacher attrition rates between 20% and 29% (where Ballou would fall, BTW). Charter schools with teacher attrition rates of 40% or greater accounted for more than 20% of the total reported.

To be sure, this is not only last year’s data—it’s nothing new in DC.

As I wrote about more than a year ago, between 2009 and 2012, the average teacher attrition across DCPS was 18%, compared to attrition rates in 16 urban areas that averaged 13%. One study found that so-called “low-performing” DCPS teachers (i.e., ones who had a low rating via IMPACT, the controversial teacher evaluation system in DCPS) had an attrition rate of 46% annually, presumably through forced departures as a result of IMPACT ratings.

But even the highest performing teachers in DCPS (who are rewarded financially under IMPACT) had high attrition, departing from high-poverty schools at a greater annual rate than from low-poverty schools (13% compared to 10%, respectively).

And, as DC schools advocate Cathy Reilly testified last year before the hiring of Chancellor Antwan Wilson, staff turnover for DCPS averages about 20% a year. From there, the attrition rates simply grow. Using data painstakingly compiled by DC public school analyst Mary Levy from school budgets, Reilly noted that DCPS’s new hires alone leave at a rate of 25% per year, and staff leaving the 40 lowest-performing (and highest poverty) schools leave at an average rate of 33% per year. Moreover, since 2008, cohorts of staff average 33% attrition over 2 years; 41% over 3 years; 50% over 4 years; and 56% over 5 years–with new hire cohorts having even higher attrition rates over time.

To be sure, we don’t know what this year’s data will bring. But clearly, as Mundo Verde parents testified last month during the charter board hearing, teacher retention and attrition is an ongoing concern–even with their school’s relatively low attrition rate in SY15-16.

So, what’s the take-home on teacher attrition at DC’s public schools?

Every year, even after the start of school, many of our DC public school teachers are leaving. That means DC students are being left behind—including many of our city’s most vulnerable kids–no matter where they go to school.

Talk about a pressing cross-sector issue, deputy mayor for education Jennifer Niles!

And while we have DC city leaders lining up to express concern about DCPS teacher attrition (yes, I am speaking about you, Robert White, several state board of education members, and David Grosso), maybe somebody in DC’s leadership circles will work up a head of steam about the (apparently worse) teacher attrition in charter schools–you know, the schools that educate almost half of DC’s students?

Just a thought.

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