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Students Detail Devastating Impact of Teacher Turnover

Monday, March 4, 2019
Missing teachers hurt the quality of education in the District

(Washington, DC) - Last Wednesday, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) heard student and expert panel testimony on teacher and principal retention at its monthly public meeting. Student leaders testified about the impact, in both DCPS and charter schools, with a special focus on school systems’ reliance on using long-term substitute teachers as a temporary solution. The testimony can be accessed on our information-sharing site and the video recording can be accessed online.

“I wasted an entire year of math due to the lack of teachers at my school,” said Tatiana Robinson, SBOE Student Representative from Ballou High School. “Imagine having to see a new face everytime you go to class, or having a teacher who just gives work because they are only titled as the long-term substitute. When teachers leave in the middle of the school year, students lose the valuable relationships that were built and it makes it hard to build those special bonds that my peers and I need to be successful.”

During the first panel, Ms. Robinson joined SBOE Student Advisory Committee member Emma Quigg from BASIS DC public charter school to talk about how teacher and principal turnover leads to many months or years of lost instruction and the loss of meaningful relationships and support system in school. One panelist spoke about having five principals in four years of high school, while the other referenced having three principals in her time in high school. Students find it frustrating when the path to long-term school improvement resets each time school leadership changes.

“My classmates and I find it difficult to get appropriate letters of recommendations for colleges due to low teacher retention,” said Ms. Quigg. “Long-term substitutes contribute to students disliking school and not being interested in their education. Many of my classmates became bitter with classes when we had new teachers or substitutes that did not understand that the entire class was at different levels.”


“We heard loud and clear the devastating impact high teacher and principal turnover has on students in both sectors,” said Ruth Wattenberg, SBOE President and Ward 3 representative. “We need better data on this issue and the State Board will continue to look at ways to help our city deal with this pervasive issue.”

The State Board also welcomed college leaders from schools of education at Trinity Washington University and George Washington University to talk about the kinds of data that would aid this effort. Dr. Maia Sheppard, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Pedagogy and Coordinator of the Secondary Education Program at George Washington University, and Dr. Nicole Strange-Martin, Dean of Trinity Washington University School of Education, shared insights on what information and data they need to ensure future teachers will remain in a single school for the long term. Testimony from Dr. Dawn Williams, Dean of the Howard University School of Education and Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Dean of the School of Education at American University, was also received by the SBOE.

“The teacher retention numbers in D.C. are worrisome, as are the declining number of people choosing to enter the teaching profession,” said Dr. Sheppard. “The work of improving schools, teaching, and learning will never be complete. Therefore, the best work we can do to ensure a productive process of innovative and responsive reform is to create systems and structures that invest in the capacity of teachers to be fully engaged in the process of improvement.”

The SBOE will continue its work on this issue over the coming months by examining additional recommendations from our November 28, 2018 public forum and exploring the difficulties other states and districts across the country have been facing in teacher retention.

About the SBOE

The D.C. State Board of Education is an independent agency within the Government of the District of Columbia that advises the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the District’s state education agency. The State Board is comprised of nine elected representatives, each representing their respective wards, with one member representing D.C. at large, and two appointed student representatives. The State Board approves statewide education policies and sets academic standards, while OSSE oversees education within the District and manages federal education funding. More information about the SBOE can be found at