Urban schools are systematically neglecting and losing their best teachers every year, even as they retain many of their lowest-performing teachers, with serious consequences for students, schools, and the teaching profession, a new study finds.
Issued by TNTP, a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all students are taught by excellent teachers, the report, The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America's Urban Schools, estimates that the nation's fifty largest school districts lose ten thousand high-performing teachers every year. These are teachers who are able to advance their students' learning by an additional two to three months in math and reading compared with the average teacher — and five to six months compared to low-performing teachers — while their students go on to demonstrate better educational and employment outcomes. What's more, when an "irreplaceable" teacher leaves a low-performing school, the chances of a potential replacement being of comparable quality is only one in eleven.
Based on data from four large urban school districts, the report suggests that the problem of high-performing teachers leaving urban schools is exacerbated by a lack of effort on the part of principals to recognize and retain the best teachers, poor school cultures and working conditions, and policies that support inflexible, seniority-dominated compensation systems. The report, which was funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Gates, Charles and Helen Schwab, Laura and John Arnold, Joyce, Noyce, and Walton Family foundations, also found that struggling teachers rarely improve, even when principals make such improvement a top priority. As a result, the report's authors argue, school turnaround in many urban settings is nearly impossible and the teaching profession as a whole suffers.
"America's best teachers are truly irreplaceable," said U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan at an event to announce the results of the study. "I've said that when it comes to teaching, talent matters tremendously. But TNTP's report documents in painful detail that school leaders are doing far too little to nurture, retain, and reward great teachers — and not nearly enough to identify and assist struggling teachers. Our teachers, who play such a crucial role in the lives of children, deserve a profession built on respect and rigor. And our children deserve — and need — to learn from those irreplaceable teachers."