Telling Teachers They Are Irreplaceable

Telling Teachers They Are Irreplaceable

On July 30, The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a nonprofit dedicated to closing the achievement gap, released a study that, according to David Keeling, vice president of communications, tells a story of systemic neglect for our nation’s best teachers.

The report, “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools,” is the follow-up report to TNTP’s 2009 report, “Widget Effect,” which urged districts to revamp teacher evaluations. The new report examines four large urban school districts and recommends what districts can do to retain a high-performing teacher. Data shows that it may take 11 hires before finding someone equally as effective in the classroom.

Root of the Problem

According to the report, the crux of the retention problem is that principals make too little effort to retain high-performing teachers and to remove those that are low-performing. In addition, poor school cultures and working conditions also drive away great teachers, and policies such as seniority and compensation structures prevent district leaders from incentivizing their workforce.
“Principals are applying blanket retention strategies for all teachers, good and bad, and not addressing low-performing teachers in a manner that is direct and honest,” says Keeling.

The Secret to Retention

The bottom line is that if you’re doing a great job, you want your employer to recognize it. The data from this report shows that all too often, that is not happening. Of the 90,000 teachers studied in the report, roughly 20 percent, or 18,000, were deemed irreplaceable. It’s estimated that in the nation’s 50 largest school districts, 10,000 high-performing teachers are lost each year. Keeling says that the report determined its definition of “irreplaceable” by studying value-added evaluations and student achievement data. TNTP recognizes, however, that these factors alone should not solely determine a teacher’s performance at the district level.

The report recommends that districts make retention of high-performing teachers a priority by setting a goal to retain 90 percent each year, to monitor school working conditions, to protect irreplaceable teachers during layoffs, to pay them what they’re worth, and to elevate the expectations of the teaching profession schoolwide. Keeling says that simple human resource strategies such as talking to high-performing teachers and letting them know they’re valued can add two to eight years to their district careers.

“It’s about building a profession based on respect and rigor,” says Keeling. “Far too often these teachers are treated as expendable, while in reality we ought to be fighting for them.”


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