A new study from TNTP finds that urban schools are systematically neglecting their best teachers, and documents a national failure to retain enough of the best teachers
The report, titled The Irreplaceables (PDF), focuses on the experiences teachers so successful at advancing student learning that they are nearly impossible to replace. Schools rarely make a strong effort to keep these teachers despite their success.
Because of this, the best and worst teachers leave urban schools at strikingly similar rates. The nation’s 50 largest districts lose approximately 10,000 of these high-performing teachers each year. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are less effective at advancing academic progress than the average first-year teacher.
The study attributes negligent retention patterns to three major causes:
1. Inaction by school principals. The study shows that less than 30 percent of high-performing teachers plan to leave for reasons beyond their school’s control. Simple strategies, like public recognition for a job well done, boost their plans to stay by as many as six years. Yet two-thirds indicated that no one had encouraged them to return for another year.
2. Poor school cultures and working conditions. Schools that retain more high-performing teachers have strong cultures where teachers work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, leaders respond to poor performance, and great teaching is the priority. Turnover rates among the best teachers were 50 percent higher in schools lacking these traits.
3. Policies that impede smarter retention practices. A number of policy barriers hamper principals from making smarter retention decisions. Because of inflexible, seniority-dominated compensation systems, for example, 55 percent of these high-performing teachers earn a lower salary than the average low-performing teacher.
The report offers two major recommendations to policymakers and school leaders to help change these barriers to keeping high-performing teachers. The authors suggest making retention of the best teachers a top priority by monitoring and improving working conditions, paying teachers what they’re worth and creating new pathways for advancing their careers. They also suggest expecting high levels of performance from teachers and reconsidering hiring and firing practices to encourage high-performers and counsel out low-performers.
Read the full report here (PDF).