Tag Archives: DC Public Schools (DCPS)

Want to Keep Great Teachers? Listen to What They Say.

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

Last Monday was the first day back for DC Public Schools (DCPS). Luckily, many DCPS students entered classrooms led by teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” In fact, the district retains 92 percent of these in-demand educators.

But what about the high-performing teachers who leave the district? There is a common misconception that a punitive evaluation system is the main issue driving out great DCPS teachers. Yet, when you actually ask teachers, this narrative doesn’t seem to tell the whole story.

DCPS surveys all teachers exiting the district to ask about why they left, where they went, and what would have made them stay. In a recent report, we took a closer look at these data and focused on high-performing teachers’ responses to better understand how to retain these teachers in particular.

Analyzing why great educators leave can be a touchy subject, so when we released the report, our approach was not appreciated by all:

Kaya and Dan are right in that, compared to other urban districts, DCPS does not have a problem retaining its high-performing teachers. We know that because of the district’s evaluation system, IMPACT, which meaningfully differentiates teachers’ performance:

But we still thought it important to review these findings. A rigorous evaluation system such as IMPACT makes the resulting data on what high-performing teachers want much more valuable than data from systems that struggle to identify outstanding teachers. By focusing on good and great teachers, our report aims to provide DCPS and other urban districts with strategies to intentionally retain these high performers.

Differentiating teacher retention by performance speaks to a larger research-backed theory: not all teacher churn is bad. Yes, in general teacher turnover is harmful to students, but when districts can replace teachers who leave with higher performing teachers, it is better for student achievement. DCPS is a shining example of this approach.

In case you missed our original report, here are the key themes we found in our analysis:

These findings give DCPS and other similar urban school districts data to consider when making changes to retain their best teachers. They could give experienced, high-performing teachers more options for extended leave and part-time employment. They could address how school leaders show encouragement and recognition to high performers or think about systems for behavioral and instructional support. On the flip side, trying to retain potential career changers might not be a promising strategy since most of them say there was nothing the district could have done to change their mind.

Although DCPS already retains a large majority of its effective and highly effective teachers, we hope that our report will help the district continue to do so and potentially influence other urban districts that are considering retention strategies.

Three Lessons From an Out Classroom Teacher

Justin Borroto in the classroom

photo courtesy of the author

When I became a teacher, it had been over five years since I first came out. In that time, I didn’t worry much about my sexuality. My friends and family overwhelmingly accepted me, my college campus made me feel safe, and the progressive nonprofit where I worked celebrated the ways that I was unique and different. But as I walked into a high school classroom as a teacher, all the scary feelings I once felt as a high school student came creeping back in. Would being gay hurt my relationships with students or their families? I resolved that I wouldn’t lead with the fact that I was gay, but I wouldn’t lie about it either.

It turns out that I didn’t need to worry. Throughout my teaching experience, I have had the opportunity to share my authentic self with students and facilitate conversations around sexuality and gender. I’ve shown my queer students how to love themselves and their peers how to be good allies. And on top of continuing to work as a classroom teacher, I’ve had the privilege of serving as my school’s LGBTQ Liaison, a position unique to DC Public School (DCPS).

Here are three lessons I’ve learned from my time in the classroom and as LGBTQ liaison:

High school is not how I remember it

As a closeted queer kid in high school almost 10 years ago, the idea of being out was scary. There were very few out students and absolutely no out teachers.

Things are getting better. While a 2015 survey conducted by GLSEN revealed that 60% of LGBTQ students reported frequently hearing words like “fag” or “dyke,” that number is down from 80% in 2001. So don’t get me wrong, discrimination hasn’t completely stopped, but I’m pleasantly surprised each time I watch a student be themselves boldly and unapologetically. LGBT students at my school are generally encouraged to be themselves, so much that our Prom King this year was openly gay.

Having an employer that protects your students’ and your own sexual orientation and gender identity is a blessing Continue reading

How Can DC Public Schools Keep Its Best Teachers? Give Them Encouragement, Flexibility, and a Chance to Lead.

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week! Time to celebrate and thank teachers across the country. Weeks like this are important, but they are not enough to keep our best teachers in the profession. Retaining great teachers also requires targeted efforts by school districts to make teachers feel supported and engaged. In a new Bellwether analysis, we looked at teacher exit survey data from DC Public Schools (DCPS) to better understand why their best educators leave the district and how to retain them. cover of new Bellwether analysis, "Retaining High Performers: Insights from DC Public Schools’ Teacher Exit Survey"

It turns out, commonly promoted retention strategies such as better pay, more classroom resources, or reforming teacher evaluation aren’t the most promising ways to address the turnover of DCPS’ high-performing teachers. Here are three areas to focus on instead:

  • Work-life balance: For high-performers in DCPS, work-life balance was the top job-related factor in leaving DCPS. But directing all efforts towards decreasing teacher workload might not be the most effective solution. Instead, get creative with scheduling. High performers who left for better work-life balance said more schedule flexibility, especially part-time and extended leave options to spend time with family, would have made them stay.
  • Recognition from school leadership: Of the high-performing teachers who said DCPS could have retained them, 45 percent said more encouragement or support from school leadership would have made the difference. In fact, one in three high-performing teachers who left due to school leadership said they would have liked more recognition and encouragement.
  • Opportunities for teacher leadership: After work-life balance and school leadership, the most common reason highly effective teachers left DCPS was to pursue a leadership opportunity elsewhere. Notably, teachers of color reported more leadership and growth opportunities as the top effort that would have kept them in the district. While most teachers continued working in a traditional public school after leaving DCPS, high-performing teachers who left for a leadership opportunity were more likely to switch to a charter school.

The recent turmoil surrounding DCPS makes retaining teachers as crucial as ever. But the district needs to be strategic in targeting its most effective teachers. And these lessons on teacher retention can also indicate strategies for other urban districts.

Check out the full analysis here.

Alexander Brand was an intern at Bellwether in the spring of 2018.