Efforts to close achievement gap are looking at teacher turnover
By Madelynn Coldiron
Kentucky school board members will be hearing a lot more about teacher retention, thanks to a push by the U.S. education department.
The agency is requiring states to develop new plans to address equitable distribution of highly qualified and effective teachers. Teacher turnover and working conditions are likely to factor into those plans.
Jennifer Baker, a branch manager in the Kentucky Education department’s Division of Next-Generation Professionals, said there is a connection between teacher retention and student achievement.
“Because of the high turnover, particularly in schools that are in the highest quartile of poverty or schools with low average test scores, they are typically the ones that have a higher number of new teachers,” she said. “And there’s nothing wrong with hiring new teachers, but data shows that teacher experience level does impact student achievement.
“But if they get better at their craft and they take it to another school or to another district, then those kids are losing out. And the students who need those really effective teachers are typically the ones who are getting the new teachers.”
The new equity plans will be different from an earlier version that required states to address equitable distribution of highly qualified teachers – meaning those with the appropriate certification to teach specific courses. In Kentucky, 99.7 percent of teachers now are considered highly qualified. This time around, in light of persistent achievement gaps across the nation, the focus is on student access to not only highly qualified teachers, but to effective teachers.
The equity planning requires the state to consult educators and other stakeholder groups, including school board members. KDE welcomes input into the state’s proposed measures for the equity plan, Baker said. At this point, the proposed measures are:
• TELL (Teaching, Empowerment, Leading and Learning) working conditions survey
• Overall teacher and principal effectiveness
• Teacher and principal growth rating
• Percent of first-year and KTIP (Kentucky Teacher Internship Program) teachers in all schools
• Percent of teacher turnover
“As a state, we’re looking at the measures that we think would improve student achievement in those gap groups,” Baker explained. The plan is due June 1. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, the finalized components will appear in school report cards.
School boards can use their district’s TELL Survey results to glean information about teacher retention in their schools, said Kelly Stidham, a KDE effectiveness coach who works with northern Kentucky school districts. The survey assesses working conditions every two years; the 2015 survey was taken in March. Stidham said the TELL Survey and anecdotal information suggest that teachers who have a sense of ownership in the work of their school rarely leave that school.
“Teachers who feel like they have a voice in the decision-making of the school and that the administration is responsive to the ideas that they have and value their voice will find it more difficult to leave that school,” Stidham said.
Research shows that whether teachers stay in a school is more about support than salary, Baker said, noting, “If you don’t feel supported where you are, money doesn’t always matter.”
When teachers who work in supportive schools do leave, it’s usually for a role outside the classroom, Stidham said.
“So the question for us is, how we provide roles with form and function that allow teachers to remain impactful in the classroom and impact other classrooms,” she said.
For teachers who are newly certified and not simply new to a school, other strategies can be used in addition to the state’s KTIP. Many schools assign teacher mentors to new teachers and have formal induction programs, but it’s important for those programs “to be long term, not just the first year,” Baker said.
School board members should be aware of teacher retention issues in their districts, Baker and Stidham said. They suggested board members ask questions about:
New teacher induction: Are new teachers being provided with release time to observe experienced teachers? Are they given opportunities to collaborate with their peers? If funding is short for paying substitute teachers to cover for them, “you can do some creative scheduling,” Baker said. A related question is whether schools give comparable support during the induction period for experienced teachers who are just new to the school.
Professional development: Are new teachers getting this training during the school day? Even mid-career teachers want more embedded professional learning and collaboration during the school day, Stidham said.
Leadership roles: Does the district have, or is it looking at, options for alternate career paths that allow teachers to lead from within their classroom? An example might be spending part of the day teaching students and part of the day leading or coaching other teachers. A new program through KDE will offer small grants that are designed to help recipient schools explore ways effective teachers can be used in leadership roles.
TELL Survey results: What does the district’s TELL Survey show about school/district working conditions that may be impacting teacher retention? The survey results also allow for comparison among a district’s schools. The survey does not include schools that had less than a 50 percent response rate – which, in itself, should prompt some questions, Baker said.
Retention data: When teachers leave a school, are they leaving the district or are they switching schools within the district, and why? Are they leaving the profession entirely? Exit interviews can shed light on these questions.
Teacher recruitment strategies: What kind of strategy does a district have for recruiting effective teachers? When is most of the hiring done? Stidham notes that teachers hired later, in June-July, are less likely to stay with the job.
Competition: What is the context of the region in which a district is located? Are the district’s schools the only show in town in a rural area, or are other districts within driving distance?
Next month: Top TELL Survey performers share the strategies that have helped them create positive working conditions and retain teachers.
Kentucky research points to importance of teacher retention
A 2014 report for the Kentucky Department of Education by the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University analyzed data on teacher recruitment, placement, development, evaluation and retention/turnover.
Among the Kentucky-specific findings:
• High-poverty schools, schools with low average test scores, high-minority schools and urban schools are more likely to hire new teachers.
• Newly hired teachers are more likely to be placed with students with lower incoming math scores.
• Returning teachers have a larger impact on student test scores than newly hired teachers.
• Teachers in high-poverty and low-achieving schools are more likely to transfer to other schools the next year.
• Just over half of newly hired teachers were still at the same school two years later.
• Schools located in cities have higher teacher turnover.
• At the end of a three-year period from 2008-09 to 2011-12, 77.2 percent of all teachers were still teaching in Kentucky; 73.9 percent were in the same district; and 67.7 percent were at the same school. For newly hired teachers, those respective figures were 70.3 percent, 62.8 percent and 55.7 percent.