turnover paradox

Black teachers leave schools at higher rates — but why?

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
NYC Men Teach, a program to recruit male teachers of color, hosted a discussion between prospective teachers and retired principals in June 2016.

In recent years, there’s been an increased push to get more teachers of color into the classroom, often highlighting large gaps between student and teacher demographics

National data shows the problem isn’t just recruiting those teachers, but retaining them as well. Now a new paper offers a detailed look at the reasons why in one state, and hints at potential solutions.

That’s important because a spate of recent research has linked teachers of color to better outcomes for students of color; some advocates point to inherent and democratic benefits for all students of a more diverse teaching profession. “With the increasing diversity of student populations and a societal striving to achieve educational equity, the issue of developing a diverse and effective teaching workforce remains urgent and pressing,” writes researcher Min Sun of the University of Washington.

Sun’s paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal AERA Open, uses detailed data from 2004 to 2015 to focus on black teachers in North Carolina.

First, the study documents higher turnover rates — meaning leaving one’s school either for a different one or departing teaching altogether — among black North Carolina teachers. The gap was around four percentage points, although it fluctuated somewhat between years and grade levels. In a given year, about 12 percent of black teachers left public school teaching in North Carolina, compared to 10 percent of white teachers. Another 10 percent of black teachers switched between schools; eight percent of white teachers did.

National data points to a somewhat larger overall turnover disparity of about seven percentage points between black and white teachers (22 versus 15 percent, respectively).

But when the North Carolina paper digs into this more, a striking finding emerges: once factors that might predict turnover — such as school type and a teacher’s age — are controlled for, the racial turnover gap disappears. In fact, in schools with more black students, black teachers were actually slightly more likely than their white colleagues to remain in the classroom.

So why does a raw gap exist?

“The schools where Black teachers worked also had weaker principal leadership, less effective mentoring, and lower-quality professional development,” Sun writes. “The observed Black-White retention gap can be partially explained by these challenging work context and professional characteristics.”

For both black and white teachers, working in a school with more black students and in higher poverty neighborhoods predicted turnover; similarly, schools where the teachers rated the professional support and leadership as worse saw more teachers leave. In general, when teachers moved schools they moved to ones with higher test scores, more white students, and better working conditions.

In other words, black teachers in North Carolina aren’t necessarily more likely to switch schools or professions; they’re more likely to teach in schools that lead to higher quit rates.

“Black teachers tended to work in hard- to-staff schools that serve a larger proportion of students of color or underperforming students, have poorer school supports, and are in lower [socioeconomic] communities,” Sun wrote.

Of course, the study is based on just one state, where there are few teachers of color who are not black. But insofar as the results apply in other places, efforts to retain teachers of color might require making the schools they teach in more appealing places to work — though how to do so is often debated.

Research has shown that salary increases and bonuses can boost retention, including in high-poverty schools. Mentoring programs and higher-quality principals have also been linked to lower turnover. Programs have also emerged to specifically support teachers of color, including initiatives for male teachers of color in New York City and Memphis .

Sun concludes the paper by calling for more “rigorous studies of programs or policy that aim to attract and retain effective teachers of color in schools serving historically underserved students.”

dollars and cents

New York City teacher salaries to range from $61,070 to $128,657 in new contract

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
The pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. UFT President Michael Mulgrew (right) and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza (left) announced the new agreement Thursday along with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Starting salaries for a first-year New York City teacher will increase over the next three years to $61,070, up from $56,711 this year, according to a salary schedule released Friday by the United Federation of Teachers.

Unlike the first contract under Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014, the pay increases included in the new contract are marginal. In that contract, starting teacher pay jumped by almost 20 percent — nearly $10,000 — because city teachers had gone without an updated contract for five years.

[Related: More money for New York City teachers in contract deal, but is it a raise? Some are pushing back]

The 2019-2022 contract, announced four months before the current one is due to expire, includes annual raises of 2, 2.5, and 3 percent. Teachers have criticized the increases as insufficient to keep up with rising living costs.

“Furious my beloved @UFT wants me to support a contract that doesn’t even include cost of living increases when I teach in one of most expensive housing markets in USA,” tweeted Samantha Rubin.

Under the contract agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the UFT’s members, the maximum salary for teachers will rise from $119,565 to $128,657. The proposed salary schedule details how much teachers earn based on how many years they’ve been working and how many education credits they’ve accrued.

The union posted the schedule as part of a massive document dump aimed at explaining the new contract. Those documents include an outline of the proposed changes and the agreement signed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, which also made several policy changes that will affect schools and classrooms.

Friday afternoon, the UFT’s 3,400-member delegate assembly will meet and vote to recommend the proposed contract to all 129,000 members.

Some members have complained that the vote feels rushed. The agreement was announced Thursday afternoon and the memorandum was still being finalized in the hours before the delegate vote.

“It strikes me as sort of Republican Senate power play to just ram something through before anyone has a chance to read the contract,” said Will Ehrenfeld, an American history teacher at P-Tech and a union delegate. “I think it’s really unacceptable to not get details.”

Mulgrew defended the process, saying “everyone is going to have a couple of weeks to read the entire memorandum.”

You can read the full memorandum below.



Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman contributed.

Teacher quality

Teachers getting better under Tennessee’s controversial evaluation system, says new analysis

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick/Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s overhaul of its system for evaluating teachers has coincided with real and measurable benefits for students and teachers alike, says an analysis released Thursday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The controversial changes — which since 2011 have required more frequent and rigorous evaluations aligned to student outcomes — have rankled teachers but also made a difference when it comes to teacher retention and students’ academic growth, according to the research and policy group, which backs extensive reforms to teacher preparation and evaluation.

Teachers earning highly effective ratings are generally being retained at a higher rate than less effective teachers across Tennessee. An increasing number of districts logged the highest levels of student growth on state assessments during three school years ending in the spring of 2017. And a recent survey found that 72 percent of educators believe the evaluation process has improved their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012.

However, other research paints a much less encouraging picture of evaluation reforms, particularly a recent study commissioned by the Gates Foundation that showed few gains in student achievement under the extensive changes, including in Tennessee’s largest district in Shelby County.

The newest analysis spotlights Tennessee as one of six places that are pioneering evaluation systems aimed at improving the quality of teaching. The others are New Mexico and districts in Dallas, Denver, the District of Columbia, and Newark, New Jersey.

All six use both student test scores and classroom observations to evaluate all of their teachers every year, giving significant weight to student learning. They also feature at least three rating categories, a big change from the days when teachers were assessed as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, with almost all earning the former rating.

Perhaps most significantly, each of the systems highlighted in the analysis link evaluation results to opportunities to earn higher pay. In Tennessee, districts are now required to differentiate compensation based on educator ratings or one of two other criteria: additional roles and responsibilities, or serving in hard-to-staff schools or subject areas.

The changes have happened in the decade since the National Council on Teacher Quality analyzed state and local regulations affecting teachers and called out evaluation policies across America as broken, counterproductive, and badly in need of an overhaul.

Not surprisingly, the switch to new systems has been hard.

In Tennessee, educators found the revamped evaluation model cumbersome, confusing, and opaque after its launch was rushed to help the state win a $500 million federal award in 2010. That feedback contributed to ongoing tweaks to teacher training and evaluation systems, outlined in another new report from FutureEd, a second policy think tank favoring evaluation reforms.

“None of these systems were perfect out of the gate,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, the group behind this week’s analysis. “System leaders recognized this and worked continuously to enhance system design, implementation, and use.”

But the backlash continues to bubble up in Tennessee, especially as the state’s messy transition to a computerized assessment has undermined the credibility of student test scores and prompted a recent legislative order to mostly disregard this year’s results in evaluations.

Last April, the testing problems overshadowed another study by Brown University researchers who reported that Tennessee teachers are showing substantial, career-long improvement under the state’s reforms. The finding was important because of some previous research that teacher improvement is relatively fixed, with most development coming in the first three to five years of a teacher’s career and then plateauing.

Despite the upbeat assessments in the NCTQ, Brown, and FutureEd reports, the future of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system — which is now fully integrated into other systems for teacher preparation, licensure, support, and dismissal — is uncertain due to testing headaches that call into question the evaluation’s accuracy and fairness. The Gates study, which also found that low-income Memphis students didn’t necessarily get more access to effective teachers under evaluation reforms, hasn’t helped.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has championed the reforms started by his Democratic predecessor and is urging the next administration to stay the course. His education chief says the latest analysis is a testament to the importance of incorporating student achievement into teacher ratings.

“Our evaluation model has developed the capacity of teachers to improve, put student growth at the center of our work, and established an expectation of continuous improvement,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement. “Even better, it’s working.”