TNTP Report: Schools Aren’t Doing Enough to Retain Strong Teachers

Share this

Stories of highly motivated, effective teachers leaving high-need schools are not new. These scenarios are not only unfortunate for the teachers, they’re often devastating for the students, who sorely need strong teachers. A new TNTP report examines results from a survey on the impact of school culture on the attrition rates of effective teachers in four urban school districts. The researchers sought to understand why so many strong teachers end up leaving high-need schools. What they found is that schools are not doing nearly enough to support and reward their top teachers. Instead, they treat all teachers as equally replaceable, which is hardly the case.

Results in “The Irreplaceables” show high-need school leaders do not encourage their higher performing teachers to stay at higher rates than their lower performers, although doing so could significantly help schools hold on to strong teachers. Top teachers who experienced a combination of low-cost retention strategies planned to stay at their schools longer than those for whom no retention efforts were made. Such retention strategies include: recognition, encouragement to stay, and offering strong teachers roles as teacher-leaders.

The report also found that schools that focused the instructional culture on high expectations and teacher support retained many more of their strong teachers. In two of the four districts studied, turnover rates of higher performing teachers were 50 percent higher in the schools with weak instructional cultures than in those with strong cultures.

While the report found less satisfaction with working conditions among teachers in low-performing schools, it does not provide data on which school factors had the largest influence on teacher satisfaction. However, a recent Ed Trust report finds that, among teachers working in high-poverty schools, staff cohesion and the quality of instructional leadership are actually the most important to teacher satisfaction.

“The Irreplaceables” authors urge policymakers to focus on retaining more of our strongest teachers while simultaneously raising expectations for all teachers and retaining fewer consistently poor performers. They also urge district leaders to: create new career paths and compensation opportunities for strong teachers, provide tools for principals to improve instructional culture, and hold these school leaders accountable for doing so. Such smart policies are a low-cost way to ensure struggling students, who need strong teachers the most, are more likely to get them.

— Melissa Tooley