Another School Year, More High Teacher Attrition

As we reel from some truly awful events of late in DC public education (see here, here, here, and here, the last of which apparently didn’t even merit discussion in the recent 6-hour council oversight hearing for the charter board and deputy mayor for education), let’s talk for a moment about the people who actually have been there through it all: our teachers.

Well, at least the relatively few who stay in our public schools.

There is ample evidence to show that high teacher attrition is economically and emotionally devastating for schools and the children served by those schools, particularly low-income students.

Nationally reported rates vary, but teacher attrition is about 8% on average per year.

For school years 2013-2016, the annual teacher attrition rate in DCPS averaged 19%. A back of the envelope calculation shows that such attrition probably costs annually about $15 million.

In SY 16-17, DC’s charter schools had an average teacher attrition rate of 26%–which is slightly better than last year’s average attrition rate of 28%.

Stop reading now if you want only the best news about DC public school teacher attrition–because it just gets worse.

In DCPS, the attrition rate of the newest hires in school years 2013-16 averaged about 28% per year. During the same period, the average teacher attrition rate for DCPS schools with the greatest numbers of impoverished students (the so-called 40-40 schools) was higher yet—averaging 31%.

I created that spreadsheet for DC’s charter school teacher attrition using data reported in charter school annual reports.

The spreadsheets linked to above for the DCPS data were created by DC school budget analyst Mary Levy. Since 2001, Levy has tracked DCPS teacher attrition by analyzing individual school staffing lists by name each year.

Yet, Levy’s definition of a teacher–all people coded as ET-15s, including counselors, librarians, social workers, and therapists–is not necessarily the same as the definition of teacher used by the charter board for its annual reports, which contain annual teacher attrition rates by school. There, the definition of a teacher is “any adult responsible for the instruction of students at least 50% of the time, including, but not limited to, lead teachers, teacher residents, special education teachers, and teacher fellows.”

Moreover, Levy’s attrition tables count only teachers leaving DCPS—not the churn of teachers going from one school to another within DCPS. And there is no way to tell from the charter school attrition data where those charter teachers go (promoted or transferred in the same LEA? fired? went to another LEA? moved?).

Still, no matter the disparities or questions in the data, we can say with certainty that our city’s publicly funded schools have very high rates of teacher attrition.

For instance, of the 114 charter schools for which I found reported teacher attrition data for SY 16-17, I counted 37 charter schools with teacher attrition rates of 20% or less (32% of the total); 21 schools with teacher attrition rates between 20-29% (18%); and 56 schools with teacher attrition rates equal to or greater than 30% (49%).

Now that I have compiled two years’ worth of teacher attrition data for our charter schools, we can see which schools have the highest averages for teacher attrition in those two school years:

DC Bilingual: 87%
Richard Wright: 77.5%
Friendship Tech Prep: 66.5%
Perry Street Prep: 62.5%
Friendship Southeast Elementary: 61.5%

Indeed, 17 charter schools (about 15% of the total) had an average over the last two school years of at least 50% teacher attrition.

For SY 16-17, I found that 24 charter schools had attrition rates of 60% or more (21% of the total), with 10 having teacher attrition rates at or above 80%. All of the latter were Friendship schools except for DC Bilingual; Shining Stars; and Washington Mathematics, Science, and Technology.

Indeed, for SY 16-17, I calculated that Friendship had the highest overall average attrition rate of teachers for a charter LEA with multiple schools:

Friendship: 12 schools, average teacher attrition rate = 74.5% (high = 100%; low = 37%)

DC Prep: 5 schools, average teacher attrition rate = 70.8% (high = 77%; low = 64%)

KIPP: 16 schools, average teacher attrition rate = 27.9% (high = 58%; low = 6%)

Center City: 6 schools, average teacher attrition rate = 27.5% (high = 42.9%; low = 17.9%)

Appletree: 5 schools, average teacher attrition rate = 18.2% (high = 27.3%; low = 7.1%)

LEAs reporting out attrition for 2-4 individual schools:

Chavez (49.8% average)
Eagle Academy (44.5% average)
E.L. Haynes (35.7% average)
Paul (34.3% average)
Maya Angelou (32% average)
Capital City (18.7% average)
Washington Latin (16.8% average)

Notwithstanding our president’s desire to pay teachers a bonus for packing heat, our public school teachers also have widely varying salaries.

Charter school annual reports (which are available only for each most recent school year on the charter board website) list teacher salaries as averages and ranges, all of which do not appear to approach the pay for DCPS teachers, as outlined in this listing of all DC municipal employees (which is available at this website). Theoretically, one could back out charter teachers’ pay, a la Mary Levy’s DCPS work, using charter school annual reports, which list expenses and staff members. However, that huge data tracking likely would not get to how charter school administrators and charter board employees are paid—which appears (in those links here) to be generally much higher than charter teachers’ pay. (See here and here for more information, respectively.)

There is irony aplenty here:

For all our lip service on how we value our teachers, and all the belief systems we have in school data, how is it that apparently just two people in the entire city of DC are analyzing teacher attrition in our public schools and making it public—on their own time and dime?

As it is, the investigation into graduation rates for one year at only DCPS high schools revealed immense pressure on teachers at those schools.

Yet, even now, when council education committee chair David Grosso apparently believes that powerful people with oversight of our public schools have not been exactly forthright, we have no way of knowing what is going on with teachers in our charter schools or other DCPS schools that results in such high attrition rates—nor the relationship between those rates and pressures on teachers for higher test scores.

Come to think of it, those could be good areas of inquiry at the performance hearing tomorrow for the office of our state superintendent of education (OSSE)—you know, the people who are supposed to have all this data and use it to make our schools better.

But then, our mayor apparently thinks everything is going well!

After all, last month she tapped Katherine Bradley (of the CityBridge Foundation that funnels cash to our charter schools and politicians–$2500 from Bradley and her son to the mayor’s campaign in October 2017 alone!) to report on progress in DC’s public education. See Bradley’s incredibly upbeat presentation here, starting at about 1:21:25, and enjoy the, erm, alternate facts about DC as a “talent mecca” for teachers–from someone who never sent her kids to the schools they teach in.

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