Teachers, advocates recommend changes to improve DC teacher retention rates

D.C. has one of the highest teacher turnover rates in the county, according to the D.C. State Board of Education.

At a D.C. council meeting on the issue, dozens of teachers, school leaders and advocates spoke out on what’s driving teachers to quit and what can be done to retain them.

Mary Levy has been studying teacher attrition for years and produced recent reports for the Board of Education. She said while retention numbers are getting better than they were 10 years ago on average, D.C. Public Schools are still losing 20% of its teachers each year, compared to 16% nationally.

Levy also said the average charter school loses about a quarter of its teachers annually.

“Teacher departure is much higher in schools serving many students designated as at risk. And research finds that they are the ones that really suffer from turnover,” Levy said. “In a word, it’s dreadful.”

Veteran teacher George Telzrow, who is set to retire soon, said he and others are leaving namely because of the D.C. schools’ evaluation system, IMPACT.

“It creates fear, apprehension, literal tears among both veterans and newer teachers,” Telzrow said.

He said the rigid evaluation process is punitive and forces teachers to follow cookie cutter methods, curbing autonomy and creativity.

IMPACT was implemented in 2009 and ties teacher performance to pay. A recent city-commissioned study found that teacher retention rates have improved by 7.5% since its implementation.

But, according to the study, “a significant number of teachers experienced stress and/or anxiety regarding outcomes with respect to IMPACT.” The study also found that white teachers on average received higher scores than Black teachers.

“These are grounds alone that should make it enough for the council to force DCPS to the table to design a new evaluation tool in collaboration with the WTU (Washington Teacher’s Union) that better supports teachers,” said WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons.

Other recommendations included retention bonuses that would increase the longer a teacher stayed at a school and listening to teachers more.

“Teachers who can use their voices to advocate for their students and families will be more effective and invested,” said Dominique Foster, a pre-K teacher at Friendship Public Charter School, Blow Pierce Elementary.

Foster, who was selected by the city as the 2022 Teacher of the Year, stressed how important it is for school buildings to be maintained and well stocked with supplies.

“If we want teachers to be great and we want teachers to stay we have to create the conditions that allow them to focus on their children and not have to worry about their basic needs,” said Foster.

Melissa Kim, deputy chancellor of D.C. public schools, acknowledged that more needs to be done to support educators and told the council that the city was recently awarded a $30 million federal grant which will go toward recruiting and retaining teachers, specifically for schools in high-risk communities.

Shayna Estulin

Shayna Estulin is an anchor/reporter for WTOP. She started her career in New York City as a local TV reporter and has since covered foreign affairs and national politics as a Washington correspondent. She also anchored a nightly news show for an international network.

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