How Boston Public Schools Can Recruit and Retain Black Male Teachers

Posted by on August 6, 2014

Our guest author today is Travis J. Bristol, former high school English teacher in New York City public schools and teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program, who is currently a research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) at Stanford University.

The challenges faced by Black male teachers in schools may serve as the canary in the coalmine that begins to explain the debilitating condition faced by Black boys in schools. Black males represent 1.9% of all public school teachers yet have one of the highest rates of turnover. Attempts to increase the number of Black male teachers are based on research that suggests these new recruits can improve Black students’ schooling outcomes.

Below, I discuss my study of the school-based experiences of 27 Black male teachers in Boston Public Schools (BPS), who represent approximately 10 percent of all Black male teachers in the district. This study, which I recently discussed in Boston’s NPR news station, is one of the largest studies conducted exclusively on Black male teachers and has implications for policymakers as well as school administrators looking to recruit and retain Black male educators.

Here is a summary of the key findings. Read More »


Is Teacher Attrition Actually Increasing?

Posted by on June 12, 2014

Over the past few years, one can find a regular flow of writing attempting to explain the increase in teacher attrition. Usually, these explanations come in the form of advocacy – that is, people who don’t like a given policy or policies assert that they are the reasons for the rise in teachers leaving. Putting aside that these arguments are usually little more than speculation, as well as the fact that they often rely on highly limited approaches to measuring attrition (e.g., teacher experience distributions), there is a prior issue that must be addressed here: Is teacher attrition really increasing?

The short answer, at least at the national level and over the longer term, is yes, but, as usual, it’s more complicated than a simple yes/no answer.

Obviously, not all attrition is “bad,” as it depends on who’s leaving, but any attempt to examine levels of or trends in teacher attrition (leaving the profession) or mobility (switching schools) requires good data. When looking at individual districts, one often must rely on administrative datasets that make it very difficult to determine whether teachers left the profession entirely or simply moved to another district (though remember that whether teachers leave the profession or simply switch schools doesn’t really matter to individual schools, since they must replace the teachers regardless). In addition, the phenomenon of teachers leaving for a temporary period and then returning (e.g., after childbirth) is more common than many people realize. Read More »


Teacher Retention In An Era Of Rapid Reform

Posted by on February 7, 2014

The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently released a short report on whether teachers were leaving the profession due to reforms implemented during the Obama Administration, as some commentators predicted.

The authors use data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a wonderful national survey of U.S. teachers, and they report that 70 percent of first-year teachers in 2007-08 were still teaching in 2011-12. They claim that this high retention of beginning teachers, along with the fact that most teachers in 2011-12 had five or more years of experience, show that “the teacher retention concerns were unfounded.”

This report raises a couple of important points about the debate over teacher retention during this time of sweeping reform.

Read More »


Opportunity To Churn: Teacher Assignments Within New York City Schools

Posted by on February 5, 2014

Virtually all discussions of teacher turnover focuses on teachers leaving schools and/or the profession. However, a recent working paper by Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb and James Wyckoff, which was presented at this month’s CALDER conference, reaches a very interesting conclusion using data from New York City: There is actually more movement within NYC schools than between them.*

Specifically, the authors show that, during the years for which they had data (1997-2002 and 2004-2010), over 50 percent of teachers in any given year exhibited some form of movement (including leaving the profession or switching schools), but two-thirds of these moves were within schools – i.e., teachers changing grades or subjects. Moreover, they find that these within-school moves, like those between-schools/professions, appear to have a negative impact on testing outcomes, one which is very modest but statistically discernible in both math and reading.

There are a couple of interesting points related to these main findings. Read More »


Teacher Turnover In DCPS

Posted by on January 15, 2014

Teacher turnover – the rates at which teachers leave the profession and switch schools – is obviously a very important outcome in education. Although not all turnover is necessarily a “bad thing” – some teachers simply aren’t cut out for the job and leave voluntarily (or are fired) – unusually high turnover means that schools must replace large proportions of their workforces on an annual basis. This can have serious implications not only for the characteristics (e.g., experience) of schools’ teachers, but also for schools’ costs, cohesion and professional cultures.

According to the most recent national data (which are a few years old), annual public school teacher turnover is around 16 percent, of which roughly half leave the profession (“leavers”), and half switch schools (“movers”). Both categories are equally important from the perspective of individual schools, since they must replace teachers regardless of where they go. In some subsets of schools and among certain groups of teachers, however, turnover is considerably higher. For instance, among teachers with between 1-3 years of experience, turnover is almost 23 percent. Contrary to popular opinion, though, the relationship between school poverty (i.e., free/reduced-price lunch rates) and turnover isn’t straightforward, at least at the national level. Although schools serving larger proportions of lower-income students have a larger percentage of “movers” every year, they have a considerably lower proportion of “leavers” (in part due to retirement).

This national trend, of course, masks considerable inter-district variation. One example is the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Read More »


Calling Black Men To The Blackboard

Posted by on September 4, 2013

Our guest author today is Travis Bristol, former high school English teacher in New York City public schools, who is currently a clinical teacher educator with the Boston Teacher Residency program, as well as a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research interests focus on the intersection of gender and race in organizations. Travis is a 2013 National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellow.

W.E.B. Du Bois, the preeminent American scholar, suggested that the problem of the twentieth-century is the problem of the color-line. Without question, the problem of the 21st century continues to be the “color-line,” which is to say race. And so it is understandable why Cabinet members in the Obama administration continue to address the race question head-on, through policies that attempt to decrease systemic disparities between Latino and Black Americans when compared to White Americans.

Most recently, in August 2013, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department’s decision to reduce federal mandatory drug sentencing regulations.  Holder called “shameful” the fact that “black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes.” Attempts, such as Holder’s, to reform the criminal justice system appear to be an acknowledgment that institutionalized racism influences how Blacks and Whites are sentenced. Read More »


Describing, Explaining And Affecting Teacher Retention In D.C.

Posted by on November 11, 2012

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) has released a new report on teacher retention in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). It is a spinoff of their “The Irreplaceables” report, which was released a few months ago, and which is discussed in this post. The four (unnamed) districts from that report are also used in this one, and their results are compared with those from DCPS.

I want to look quickly at this new supplemental analysis, not to rehash the issues I raised about“The Irreplaceables,” but rather because of DCPS’s potential importance as a field test site for a host of policy reform ideas – indeed, the majority of core market-based reform policies have been in place in D.C. for several years, including teacher evaluations in which test-based measures are the dominant component, automatic dismissals based on those ratings, large performance bonuses, mutual consent for excessed teachers and a huge charter sector. There are many people itching to render a sweeping verdict, positive or negative, on these reforms, most often based on pre-existing beliefs, rather than solid evidence.

Although I will take issue with a couple of the conclusions offered in this report, I’m not going to review it systematically. I think research on retention is important, and it’s difficult to produce reports with original analysis, while very easy to pick them apart. Instead, I’m going to list a couple of findings in the report that I think are worth examining, mostly because they speak to larger issues. Read More »


The Irreconcilables

Posted by on July 30, 2012

** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

The New Teacher Project (TNTP) has a new, highly-publicized report about what it calls “irreplaceables,” a catchy term that is supposed to describe those teachers who are “so successful they are nearly impossible to replace.” The report’s primary conclusion is that these “irreplaceable” teachers often leave the profession voluntarily, and TNTP offers several recommendations for how to improve this.

I’m not going to discuss this report fully. It shines a light on teacher retention, which is a good thing. Its primary purpose is to promulgate the conceptual argument that not all teacher turnover is created equal – i.e., that it depends on whether “good” or “bad” teachers are leaving (see here for a strong analysis on this topic). The report’s recommendations are standard fare – improve working conditions, tailor pay to “performance” (see here for a review of evidence on incentives and retention), etc. Many are widely-supported, while others are more controversial. All of them merit discussion.

I just want to make one quick (and, in many respects, semantic) point about the manner in which TNTP identifies high-performing teachers, as I think it illustrates larger issues. In my view, the term “irreplaceable” doesn’t apply, and I think it would have been a better analysis without it. Read More »


Teachers: Pressing The Right Buttons

Posted by on June 5, 2012

The majority of social science research does not explicitly dwell on how we go from situation A to situation B. Instead, most social scientists focus on associations between different outcomes. This “static” approach has advantages but also limitations. Looking at associations might reveal that teachers who experience condition A are twice as likely to leave their schools than teachers who experience condition B. But what does this knowledge tell us about how to move from condition A to condition B? In many cases, very little.

Many social science findings are not easily “actionable” for policy purposes precisely because they say nothing about processes or sequences of events and activities unfolding over time, and in context. While conventional quantitative research provides indications of what works — on average — across large samples, a look at processes reveals how factors or events (situated in time and space) are associated with each other. This kind of research provides the detail that we need, not just to understand the world, but to do so in a way that is useful and enables us to act on it constructively.

Although this kind of work is rare, every now then a quantitative study showing “process sensitivity” sees the light of day. This is the case of a recent paper by Morgan and colleagues (2010) examining how the events that teachers experience routinely affect their commitment to remain in the profession. Read More »


Beyond Anecdotes: The Evidence About Financial Incentives And Teacher Retention

Posted by on January 12, 2012

** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

Our guest author today is Eleanor Fulbeck, who earned her Ph.D. in education policy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011, and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

A couple of weeks ago, an article in the New York Times, written by reporter Sam Dillon, took a look at the new incentive program being used by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Under this plan (called “Impact Plus”), teachers rated “highly effective” by the district’s new evaluation system are eligible for large cash bonuses and/or permanent salary increases.

Dillon notes that, “The profession is notorious for losing thousands of its brightest young teachers within a few years, which many experts attribute to low starting salaries and a traditional step-raise structure that rewards years of service and academic degrees rather than success in the classroom.” He also profiles several teachers who received the bonuses, most of whom say it played a role in their decision to remain in the classroom.

Putting aside these anecdotes and characterizations of “experts’” views, the idea that financial incentives – such as bonuses for performance or teaching in hard-to-staff schools – is a key to boosting teacher retention is a complex empirical question, and an open one at that. Read More »


Do Half Of New Teachers Leave The Profession Within Five Years?

Posted by on December 15, 2011

You’ll often hear the argument that half or almost half of all beginning U.S. public school teachers leave the profession within five years.

The implications of this statistic are, of course, that we are losing a huge proportion of our new teachers, creating a “revolving door” of sorts, with teachers constantly leaving the profession and having to be replaced. This is costly, both financially (it is expensive to recruit and train new teachers) and in terms of productivity (we are losing teachers before they reach their peak effectiveness). And this doesn’t even include teachers who stay in the profession but switch schools and/or districts (i.e., teacher mobility).*

Needless to say, some attrition is inevitable, and not all of it is necessarily harmful, Many new teachers, like all workers, leave (or are dismissed) because they are just aren’t good at it – and, indeed, there is test-based evidence that novice leavers are, on average, less effective. But there are many other excellent teachers who exit due to working conditions or other negative factors that might be improved (for reviews of the literature on attrition/retention, see here and here).

So, the “almost half of new teachers leave within five years” statistic might serve as a useful diagnosis of the extent of the problem. As is so often the case, however, it’s rarely accompanied by a citation. Let’s quickly see where it comes from, how it might be interpreted, and, finally, take a look at some other relevant evidence. Read More »


Comparing Teacher Turnover In Charter And Regular Public Schools

Posted by on August 11, 2011

** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

A couple of weeks ago, a new working paper on teacher turnover in Los Angeles got a lot of attention, and for good reason. Teacher turnover, which tends to be alarmingly high in lower-income schools and districts, has been identified as a major impediment to improvements in student achievement.

Unfortunately, some of the media coverage of this paper has tended to miss the mark. Mostly, we have seen horserace stories focusing on fact that many charter schools have very high teacher turnover rates, much higher than most regular public schools in LA. The problem is that, as a group, charter school teachers are significantly dissimilar to their public school peers. For instance, they tend to be younger and/or less experienced than public school teachers overall; and younger, less experienced teachers tend to exhibit higher levels of turnover across all types of schools. So, if there is more overall churn in charter schools, this may simply be a result of the demographics of the teaching force or other factors, rather than any direct effect of charter schools per se (e.g., more difficult working conditions).

But the important results in this paper aren’t about the amount of turnover in charters versus regular public schools, which can measured very easily, but rather the likelihood that similar teachers in these schools will exit. Read More »


To Understand The Impact Of Teacher-Focused Reforms, Pay Attention To Teachers

Posted by on May 17, 2011

You don’ t need to be a policy analyst to know that huge changes in education are happening at the state- and local-levels right now – teacher performance pay, the restriction of teachers’ collective bargaining rights, the incorporation of heavily-weighted growth model estimates in teacher evaluations, the elimination of tenure, etc. Like many, I am concerned about the possible consequences of some of these new policies (particularly about their details), as well as about the apparent lack of serious efforts to monitor them.

Our “traditional” gauge of “what works” – cross-sectional test score gains – is totally inadequate, even under ideal circumstances. Even assuming high quality tests that are closely aligned to what has been taught, raw test scores alone cannot account for changes in the student population over time and are subject to measurement error. There is also no way to know whether fluctuations in test scores (even fluctuations that are real) are the result of any particular policy (or lack thereof).

Needless to say, test scores can (and will) play some role, but I for one would like to see more states and districts commissioning reputable, independent researchers to perform thorough, longitudinal analyses of their assessment data (which would at least mitigate the measurement issues). Even so, there is really no way to know how these new, high-stakes test-based policies will influence the validity of testing data, and, as I have argued elsewhere, we should not expect large, immediate testing gains even if policies are working well. If we rely on these data as our only yardstick of how various policies are working, we will be getting a picture that is critically incomplete and potentially biased.

What are the options? Well, we can’t solve all the measurement and causality issues mentioned above, but insofar as the policy changes are focused on teacher quality, it makes sense to evaluate them in part by looking at teacher behavior and characteristics, particularly in those states with new legislation. Here’s a few suggestions. Read More »


How Deep Is The Teacher Bench?

Posted by on October 29, 2010

On most sports teams, coaches assess players in part by considering who is available to replace them. Teams with “deep benches” have more leeway in making personnel changes, because quality replacements are available.

The same goes for teaching. Those who aggressively wish to start firing larger numbers of teachers every year rely on an obvious but critical assumption (often unstated): that schools and districts can find better replacements.

In other words, it is both counterproductive (and very expensive) to fire teachers if you can’t replace them with a more effective alternative. Even those few commentators who have addressed this matter sometimes ignore another important fact: The teacher labor market is about to change dramatically, with a massive wave of retirements lasting 5-10 years. Thus, most current assumptions about the stability and quality of the applicant pool over this period may be unsupportable.

The numbers are a bit staggering. Read More »


Think You Know About Teacher Attrition?

Posted by on August 17, 2010

Every four years, with the release of the Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS), we get what is virtually our only source of reliable information on the rates of and reasons for teacher attrition in the U.S.

The survey is a supplement to the much larger Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which is also conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics. The SASS is an extensive survey of characteristics, conditions, and other variables of over 30,000 teachers across the nation. The TFS simply contacts a sample of the SASS participants the following year to see if they’re still teaching, and if not, what they’re doing. For this round, the 2007-08 SASS respondents were contacted again in 2008-09 for the TFS.

The TFS divides respondents into three categories: stayers (teachers in the same school as last year); movers (teachers who are still teaching but in a different school and/or district); and leavers (teachers who left teaching for whatever reason, including retirement). Overall, among public school teachers in 2008-09, 84.5 percent were stayers, 7.6 percent were movers, and 7.9 percent were leavers (note that these are annual, not cumulative rates).

While some of the TFS results are unsurprising, there may be plenty about teacher attrition that you thought you knew but didn’t. Read More »


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