Jun 17, 2012

Is Teacher Churn Undermining Real Education Reform in DC?

Candi Peterson, blogger
An Op-ed in this Sunday's Washington Post, written by Mark Simon, education analyst and DCPS parent calls attention to the rate of turnover of both teachers and principals as a huge education reform. Simon argues the turnover rates are so high we're losing a lot of our best teachers and creating a hostile culture in too many schools. Turnover in charter schools is even higher.

By Mark Simon, Published: June 15- Washington Post

"I suppose the leaders of D.C. Public Schools want me to be happy that social studies teacher Kerry Sylvia won’t be coming back to Cardozo Senior High next year. The sound bite sounded appealing when DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced recently in her new strategic plan that one way to improve graduation rates is to focus on teacher talent — to remove bad teachers and replace them with better ones. But what if, however well intentioned, the reforms are actually leaving uninspired teachers in place and getting rid of some of the best talent?

When I heard that Sylvia had received a notice last month that she was being “excessed” from Cardozo after 13 years, it didn’t add up. I know good teaching, having taught high school for 16 years myself and helped to design the celebrated teacher evaluation system in Montgomery County. My daughter is about to graduate from DCPS, and I have been an engaged parent and a close DCPS observer for 14 years.

Sylvia is clearly a brilliant teacher, committed to her students, her school and its community. She is not only an award-winning teacher but also a leader and student advocate. I’ve talked with her students, several of whom told me that Sylvia’s class was the reason they come to school. If the District’s new plan is eliminating teachers like Sylvia, it’s on the wrong track.

DCPS has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the nation. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania estimates that, “nationally, on average, about 20 percent of new public school teachers leave their district to teach in another district or leave teaching altogether within one year, one-third do so within two years, and 55 percent do so within five years.” In DCPS, by contrast, 55 percent of new teachers leave in their first two years, according to an analysis by DCPS budget watchdog Mary Levy. Eighty percent are gone by the end of their sixth year. That means that most of the teachers brought in during the past five years are no longer there. By comparison, in Montgomery County just 11.5 percent leave by the end of their second year, and 30 percent by the end of year five. DCPS has become a teacher turnover factory. It has a hard time keeping teachers who are committed to their school and the community it serves.

According to Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “Teaching is no different than any other profession — experience matters. Researchers have found that teachers reach peak effectiveness with about seven years of experience. But 80 percent of the teachers hired by D.C. this year will be gone before they get there.” Carroll estimates that “the District is burning about $12 million a year on teacher churn — $12 million that is spent hiring and replacing teachers with no gain in school performance.”

Three aspects of the Michelle Rhee-Kaya Henderson reforms contribute to higher rates of teacher churn: unstable school budgets from year to year; greater freedom for principals under the IMPACT evaluation system to identify teachers for dismissal or transfer; and school closings. But most of the turnover comes from teachers leaving voluntarily, not those excessed like Sylvia.

For years, researchers, such as Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute, have advised DCPS that turnover can be a good thing because odds are that replacement teachers will be better than the ones who leave. But I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps the wrong teachers, in some cases great ones, are being pushed out.

Now, a significant new study by researchers Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, Matthew Ronfeldt of the University of Michigan and Jim Wyckoff of the University of Virginia upends Hannaway’s assumption. The study, “How Teacher Turnover Hurts Student Achievement,” concludes that, separate from the relative quality of teachers who may be brought in to replace those who leave, teacher turnover itself harms a school. Turnover affects morale and the professional culture at a school. It weakens the knowledge base of the staff about students and the community. It weakens collegiality, professional support and trust that teachers depend on in their efforts to improve achievement.

In March, Post reporter Bill Turque penned an insightful profile of another demonstrably terrific teacher, Sarah Wysocki from MacFarland Middle School, who was fired from DCPS after getting low scores in her IMPACT evaluation. The mechanical process of IMPACT insults good teachers and doesn’t do justice to the complexities of good teaching.

If the reform strategies in place in DCPS were working, then perhaps a resolute and unsympathetic response to so-called “soft issues” of staff morale and workforce culture would be understandable. But gains in student achievement in DCPS have stalled. The dropout crisis continues. It’s not that reform isn’t a good idea, but these modest results call for some humility. They might even call for listening to the wisdom of accomplished teachers we can’t afford to lose.

The writer is a DCPS parent, the former president of the Montgomery County teachers union and an education policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. He blogs at realeducationreformdc.blogspot.com "


Anonymous said...

The City Council sat back and let this mess happen! I was was appalled to hear Chairman Mendleson talk about integrity and trust. The DC residents can't trust the politicians when it comes to education. They will loose their jobs too because we are gong to vote them out of office! I guess they forgot,, "You reap what you sow!"

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine why anyone would be surprised by anything that is happening in DCPS as it relates to teacher retention in particular. The philosophy of the current admin. and, was publicly stated that teaching is not a life-long career and two or three years is all that's needed. Henderson and Karamas aren't concerned that the teacher and pricipal attrition rate is so high. This is what enables them to continue to hire more inexperienced TFA staff. I'm some what encouraged that many parents are beginning to realize the damage being done with the constant churning of principals and teachers. The system is almost at the point where the average teacher in DCPS has less five years of experience. This was part of the first five-year plan. Most of your excellent veteran teachers have either retired,been excessed, and/or IMPACTED out.

Candi Peterson said...

Anonymous @ 12:32 AM - You make some excellent points and I agree wholeheartedly. I don't think any of us are surprised about education deformers like Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson.

After writing about Michelle Rhee for years, I am well aware that her education plan along with Henderson's was to get rid of a significant share of the teaching workforce. I really don't think this administration will be satisfied until they have created a revolving door workforce of inexperienced teachers and administrators.

Anonymous said...


This is so true. I remember when, there was a big TFA conference held in DC last year I think, and Henderson stood in front of the conference and announced that if anyone wanted to teach just come to DC and they'd get a job. It amazes me everyday that veteran teachers are continuously being replaced by TFA's and that it is being allowed. I keep trying to find out if TFA's are held to the same certification requirements as degreed teachers. I wouldn't think so since they only are required to commit for 2 to 3 years and most of them are majoring in other fields. With the philosophy of the R/H admin. there is no real committment or connections made with schools, students and/or communities. We see where most of these inexperienced TFA's are placed. In the most vulnerable communities where there is a high concentration of at-risk students living in proverty. One must ask is this done by design to continue to perpetuate failure in order to justify more charters and the turnaround of some neighborhood schools. I feel very strongly that one school in particular, W.B. Patterson ES failed by design and was always slated to be turned into a charter from the time that the first brick was laid. I'm sure many other school in Wards 7 and 8 were also allowed to fail. Yes allowed, this is what I mean when I say "by design". DCPS is in such a mess, I don't know how it will ever get back on track or if many care if it does at this time. We know that the complexion of the city is changing and those of us who were born, raised and educated in the city are low in numbers and not able to affect any real and meaning change when it comes to educating our children living in poverty. Candi I could go on and on about this because I feel so passionate about our children, but I'll stop because I know that you are aware of everthing that I have stated. Thanks for allowing me once again this forum to speak out.

Anonymous said...

Vote all of the current politicians out of office!

Anonymous said...

How can Kaya look in the mirror at herself? She is Rhee's flunkie and is too DUMB to know it! She has done some awful things to people. She is a disgrace! When is Kaya Henderson's last day?? She should be taken out in handcuffs and taken straight to jail! Soon, Kaya won't be able to eat out everyday @ the taxpayers expense.

Custom Essay said...

I really dont like politicians anymore. Apologies!

Anonymous said...

As a former TFA corps member and staff member, I must say that the 'unspoken' motto of the program is "get in, do your two years, and get out."

Very few of these kids WANT to teach in urban districts, the program is just a pathway to something else and a golden carrot on the resume. (Now it has become a guaranteed position during a bad economic time so I don't see them leaving no matter how much they don't want to be there.)

That said, the organization is very cliquish. If I'm not mistaken, Rhee and Henderson started out in the corps together and have been friends and co-conspirators ever since. I'm a year behind them and am familiar with their careers, etc.

Rhee and Henderson have been groomed to believe that educational reform can only take place by keeping the classrooms 'fresh.' New ideas, young teachers, data, etc. Experience is NOT valued at TFA - except when they are called on their data (which you never see...hint, hint)of how successful alumni are in their classrooms.

I'm considering returning to the classroom and I am hesitant to apply to DCPS. I know that TFA people CANNOT be reasoned with. They think they know EVERYTHING about education. Trust me, I know this. And I have a harder time being lead by someone who spent less than 3 years in the classroom. (Yeah, I'm looking at you Kaya!)

Anonymous said...

Roosevelt-case in point.

entire departments- gone.

Anonymous said...

What happened at Garfield Elementary?

Candi Peterson said...

Reply to Anonymous June 27

My understanding is that the principal at Garfield, Ms. Tilghman (sp ?) was not reappointed. I am not aware of anything else happening.

James said...

Dear sir/madam,

In the DCPS, the incompetent teachers and administrators like Kaya Henderson and others are there to get rid of any outspoken teachers, staff, and administrators. The plan was set to make it easier for the white folks when they take over the DCPS and get rid of the incompetent administrators now in place. A whole lots of DCPS administrators are commiting punishable offences and they are getting away with it. They are running the DCPS like whatever and nothing is happening about it. May God have Mercy on the poor and helpless kids because the court system is in bed with the power running the school system.

Anonymous said...

Look--we have an incompetent, untrustworthy mayor and an unethical, lazy, incompetent City Council. How could we expect good governance of the DCPS? Please don't recommend return to a B of E, because that crowd was sleepy and in cahoots with the union. Thirty years of B of E malfeasance leaves us with the disaster that DCPS is today.
Finally, one hears little about the union today. Does it have any influence? Why is it so silent? (Not that I think we need a reinvigorated dose of teacher protectionism in this town.)

Will Savage said...

Great post! Hope everyone has a great start to the new year!!!

Anonymous said...

Veteran teachers know too much. Those in power want a scared young faculty who never complains, who read the script and leave school at the bell. Teachers who know the subject matter too well or have been through many reforms and know what works and what doesn't are disposable.
Witness Teach One. Soon 200 kids will be placed in a room each with a computer all guarded by enforcers. Remember when whole word instruction replaced phonics?

Anonymous said...


my name is robert rendo, and i am a public school teacher. is there any way to contact the writer of this blog via e-mail? i like the site a lot. my e-mail is artwork88@aol.com