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Teacher Retention

The Issue

Teachers are the foundation of a quality education, and they are vital to the success of our students and our schools. School systems across the country have struggled with the problem of how to attract, train, support, and retain their teachers, principals, and school leaders. Previous testimony heard by the State Board and research suggests rates of teacher turnover in the District of Columbia are higher than the rates in other urban areas and higher than the national average.

The D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) is seeking to better understand teacher attrition or turnover and its implications for District students and schools.

Since May 2018, the State Board has sought to better understand teacher attrition or turnover and its implications for District students and schools, and what policies could be implemented to help them stay. The State Board’s work has found that the District’s average annual school-level teacher attritIon rate in both DC public schools (DCPS) & public charter schools is 25 percent—compared to a national average of 16 percent.

The State Board’s work has been highlighted by two commissioned reports—October 2018 and October 2019—and a March 2020 report that featured survey results from teachers who have recently left their classrooms, schools, and/or sector.

 


The Research

Teacher Retention Survey Report (2020)Teacher Attrition Survey Report Cover.png

In April 2020, the State Board considered the findings from a survey of recently exited public-school teachers. The survey report explored why teachers voluntarily resign/quit and it found that:

  • IMPACT was the primary departure driver in DCPS
  • Burdens of work culture and workload were primary departure reasons in public charter schools
  • Lack of support for teacher safety and mental health led to departure
  • Tensions with school leaders created hostile work environments

Across both sectors, the vast majority (66 percent) of respondents voluntarily resigned/quit, with most of the other respondents indicating they were terminated, left due to downsizing (6 percent), on temporary contracts (4 percent), or retired (4 percent).

The full report can be accessed here.

Teacher Turnover Research Report (2018 and 2019)

In May 2018, the State Board contracted with local education researcher and data analyst Mary Levy to produce its first report on teacher and principal retention in the District of Columbia. The report, published in October 2018, used personnel data compiled from annual performance reports, staff databases, and other sources, including the Council of District of Columbia’s performance oversight reports and Freedom of Information Act requests.

Ms. Levy’s report calculated “teacher attrition” rates and painted a picture of personnel movement into, out of, and across the District from school years 2013–14 through 2017–18. Charts from the State Board’s first report are below:
 

Annual DC Teacher Turnover School Level 
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DCPS & Large Urban School-Level Teacher Turnover
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Percentage of DCPS Classroom Teachers Leaving The Schools by School Grade Configuration
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The report was an important first step in understanding the problem of teacher and principal retention in the District. While it did not answer the question of why teachers leave, it established a foundation for discussion and posed new research questions: which teachers are most likely to leave, when and why do they choose to do so, and where do they typically go?

The full 2018 report can be accessed here. The updated 2019 report can be read here. A fact sheet with key data from the report can be read here.

Further reading


A Timeline of the State Board's Work

  • April 22, 2020: During the State Board‘s April Public Meeting, the Board considers the findings from the 2020 Teacher Retention Survey report.

  • December 2019 - March 2020: The State Board contracted with a survey researcher to help administer a 70+ question survey; the survey researcher also held focus groups and follow-up interviews to identify why teachers left their classrooms and schools and what could have been done to help them stay.

    • December 30, 2019 - January 17, 2020: Survey is sent electronically to over 2,000 recently exited teachers; nearly 250 teachers reply.
    • Late-January & early-February: Survey research holds 3 focus groups (22 participants) and individual follow-up interviews (13).
  • December 4, 2019: The DC Council holds a hearing, “Teacher and Principal Turnover & Retention”. Ward 4 Representative Frazier O’Leary provides official testimony on behalf of the State Board.

  • October 2019: On behalf of the State Board, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduces B23-0515 - Statewide Educational Data Warehouse Amendment Act of 2019. The teacher data legislation requires the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to publicly report annual data relevant to understanding teacher retention and attrition, including information on teacher experience, years of experience, demographics, type of credential, and teacher preparation program.  

  • October 23, 2019: During the State Board’s October Public Meeting, the State Board welcomed public testimony from about 20 community members on the issue of teacher retention in the District’s public schools. Following the public testimony, the State Board adopted a report on teacher retention in the District (here).

  • September 2019: The State Board works with District education agencies and stakeholders on the development of a draft survey to be administered to recently exited teachers.

  • July 17, 2019: During the State's Board's July Public Meeting, State Board members welcomed exemplary teachers from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools who were awarded and recognized for their significant teaching contributions over the past year. The panelists and State Board members engaged in discussion that highlighted insights and learnings from their classrooms. In addition to inspiring testimony, Mr. Hamilton, Dr. Spruill & Mr. Lopez-Cardoze provided an incredible dialogue on education in DC. The State Board teacher panel included:

    • Gary Hamilton (3rd-grade teacher at Langley Elementary School) ~ 2019 Rubenstein Winner for Excellence in Teaching
    • Justin Lopez-Cardoze (Life Science teacher at Capital City Public Charter School) ~ 2020 DC Teacher of the Year finalist
    • Daniel Spruill (Music educator at Center City Public Charter Schools-Brightwood Campus) ~ 2020 DC Teacher of the Year finalist
       
  • March 20, 2019: During the State Board’s March Public Meeting, one panel was convened which included experts from non-profits and national associations. The panelists and State Board engaged in discussion that highlighted existing data work in districts in Rhode Island, Indiana, and Mississippi, the importance of peer feedback and mentorship, the impact of teacher evaluation systems, and ways to capture and collect information via exit surveys and stay surveys. Testimony was received and given by the following individuals:
    • Elizabeth Arons, CEO of Urban Schools Human Capital Academy (USHCA)
    • Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director & CEO, National School Boards Association (NSBA)
    • Abigail Potts, Director of College, Career, and Civic Readiness, National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)
    • Elizabeth Ross, Managing Director, National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
    • Ryan Saunders, Policy Advisor, Learning Policy Institute (LPI)
       
  • February 27, 2019: During the State Board’s February Public Meeting, two panels were convened. One panel featured students and discussed the effects of long-term substitute teachers on students, while the second featured deans and leaders of area schools of education who spoke about the data needed to understand retention. Testimony was received and given by the following individuals:
    • Emma Quigg, BASIS PCS student
    • Tatiana Robinson, State Board Student Representative, Ballou Senior High School student
    • Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Dean of the American University School of Education
    • Dr. Maia Sheppard, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Pedagogy and Coordinator of the Secondary Education Program at the George Washington University
    • Anika Spratley Burtin, Chair of University of District of Columbia Division of Education, Health, and Social Work
    • Dr. Nicole Strange-Martin, Dean of Trinity Washington University School of Education
    • Dr. Dawn Williams, Dean of Howard University School of Education
       
  • January 16, 2019: During the State Board’s January Public Meeting, the State Board adopted a memo summarizing the major themes and most common recommendations on teacher retention based on the feedback gathered at the public forum and during the online comment period. The memo can be found here.
     
  • December 2018: Following the November teacher retention public forum, the State Board set up an online feedback portal for community members to put forth new ideas on teacher retention, as well as vote on existing suggestions. More than 450 community members visited the feedback portal and voted more than 200 times on proposed solutions.

    The State Board closed the comment period on December 18, 2018, and consolidated the feedback into a memo for State Board members.
     
  • November 28, 2018: the State Board welcomed nearly 100 teachers, principals, community members, and policymakers to DCPS’ Walker-Jones Education Campus for a public forum on teacher and principal retention in the District of Columbia. You can read more about the forum and the discussions that took place here.
     
  • October 24, 2018: During the State Board’s October Public Meeting, panelists joined the State Board for a discussion on its recently released report on teacher retention in the District’s public schools. Expert testimony was received and given by the following individuals:
    • Samantha Brown, Teacher, Coolidge HS
    • Jessica Cardichon, Director of Federal Policy, Learning Policy Institute
    • Abigail Cohen, Senior Associate, Policy and Advocacy, Data Quality Campaign
    • Laura Fuchs, Teacher, H.D. Woodson HS
    • Roxanne Garza, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Policy Program at New America
    • Steve Glazerman, Senior Fellow, Mathematica
    • Scott Goldstein, Executive Director, EmpowerEd
    • Mary Levy, Education Researcher
    • Melissa Tooley, Director of Educator Quality, Education Policy Program at New America
       
  • October 4, 2018: The State Board received a letter from DCPS in response to the report on teacher turnover. The letter acknowledges the State Board’s efforts to examine teacher and principal turnover but does not state that there are retention issues in the LEA. The response letter can be read here.
     
  • May 2018: The State Board contracted with local education researcher and data analyst Mary Levy to produce a report on teacher and principal retention in the District of Columbia.

Getting Involved

The State Board continues to convene panels of policy experts, community members, and education leaders to discuss teacher and principal retention before the State Board at its monthly public meetings. We welcome written and oral testimony on the topic at any of our public meetings. Please reach out to [email protected] or (202) 741-0888 with any questions.

To engage with the D.C. State Board of Education on social media related to teacher retention use #DCTeacherRetention.