Last week, two D.C. State Board of Education members wrote a memo to D.C. Public Schools’ new Chancellor — Antwan Wilson — asking him to focus less on district reform mandates and more on creating a culture of “transparency” and “support” in the district’s schools. The authors write that reforms such as teacher evaluation and school accountability based on student achievement have led to undesirable outcomes in the district, including higher teacher turnover. It is true that teacher turnover generally harms student achievement. However, what is true in general is not true in all places.
We also know from research that, on average, new teachers tend to be lower-performing than veteran teachers. But, that’s not what’s happening in D.C. The new teachers that D.C. has hired perform as well in their first year on the job as those they replaced:
The cumulative effect is district-wide student achievement improvements. At the same time, however, it is true that DCPS leaders need to think about how to best retain high-performing teachers long-term. Strategies should include supporting positive school culture and providing meaningful professional development opportunities. These efforts are particularly important in schools that experience higher rates of teacher turnover, including those that the memo authors highlight.
The good news is that DCPS has made changes to its teacher evaluation system based on teacher feedback, and has begun implementing a new professional development system to respond to teachers’ development needs. As my colleague Sara Mead and I wrote about in a recent report, the district’s new teacher professional development system — Learning together to Advance our Practice (LEAP) — differs from traditional, one-time workshop-style approaches to professional development that research shows have little positive effect on teacher instruction. Under LEAP, DCPS teachers participate in weekly 90-minute group sessions with teachers of the same subject, led by a LEAP leader with a track record of success in that subject. LEAP provides support for teachers to develop their content knowledge and instructional mastery, as well as to collaborate on lesson plans and teaching methods in a group setting on a consistent basis.
It is too soon to tell what effect changes to teacher evaluation and professional development will have in DCPS. Hopefully they will enable the district to retain high-performing teachers long-term. DCPS has significant work to do, but should be applauded for its efforts to create systems to identify effective instruction and make decisions to ensure all students receive it.