By Simone Wright, Policy Fellow
On July 22, 2020, Ward 4 Representative and Teacher Retention Committee Chairperson, Frazier O’ Leary, and policy staff, Alexander Jue, Darren Fleischer, and Simone Wright shared findings with DC Public School (DCPS) and public charter school teachers, leaders, and staff at the 11th Annual DC Data Summit. The State Board’s goals during its 90-minute session were to build awareness around teacher attrition challenges and start to brainstorm next steps to address this challenge across the District of Columbia.
The DC State Board of Education (SBOE) started to explore challenges around teacher and principal retention in May 2018, by contracting with local education researcher, Mary Levy, to produce a report around which public-school teachers are leaving their schools in the District. The State Board’s October 2018 report functioned as a primer for deeper investigation.
In December 2019, the State Board partnered with an independent survey researcher, Bayne LLC, to administer a 70+ question electronic/online survey to 2,000 (250 responses received) recently exited teachers, as well as to conduct qualitative focus groups (22 participants) and 13 follow-up interviews. The goal of this survey research was to determine why teachers were leaving their schools and what could have potentially kept them at their schools.
In March of 2020, the State Board published these survey results in the 2020 D.C. Teacher Attrition Survey.
Presenting at the DC Data Summit allowed the State Board staff to increase awareness across the District around one of its key priority areas. In developing this virtual session, the State Board set out to gather information that may not have been accounted for in the current study, while seeking feedback on how to support organizations and agencies across the District to address teacher attrition.
The State Board’s approach to gathering insight from participants was to utilize small group discussions. Participants in each group shared their initial reactions to the data shared by the State Board’s two Policy Analysts, Alexander Jue and Darren Fleischer, then transitioned to thinking through how they could address teacher attrition in the District, their LEAs, and their schools. As small group facilitators, the State Board’s policy staff built in time for participants to provide the State Board with feedback around information that was not currently considered in the study.
Participants brought an array of perspectives to the conversation due to their various roles and backgrounds—from teachers across different LEAs to analysts and data gurus from different agencies and organizations in the District. Initial reactions from participants varied from curiosity to familiarity. Each small group seemed to have a high level of engagement: some groups were a space to raise more questions and others provided additional context or solutions to moving the work forward in addressing teacher attrition. Much dialogue raised how lack of teacher support contributes to teachers leaving the profession. This reaction very much aligns with the research shared by research entities like the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) around causes of teacher attrition on a national scale. One small group shared how DCPS could use roles outside of administration to fill gaps in teacher support.
In the small group discussions, participants inquired about administration as a lever for change in terms of addressing teacher attrition. More explicitly, they questioned the rationale for digging into teacher evaluation and not administration evaluation. Participants shared the need to be more descriptive around what is meant or necessary in terms of “support” for teachers around workload or culture. One of the most insightful charges to the State Board was to revisit this study with considerations around the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic is bringing about numerous challenges for teachers, as the State Board and other key education stakeholders are currently deciding the most effective mode for students to participate in school.
The State Board would love your thought partnership in addressing teacher attrition in the District of Columbia, especially considering the potential impact that COVID-19 has had on exasperating this particular challenge. The State Board is grateful for the active engagement and varied perspectives we received from participants in our session and encourages members of the public to attend our Teacher Retention Committee meetings via our YouTube Channel and sending any insights or questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.