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Reform Leads to Teacher Retention in D.C.

District of Columbia Public Schools in Washington, D.C. are retaining far more higher-performing teachers than lower-performing ones due to recent reforms, making it the first urban district in the nation to demonstrate this effect, according to research by The New Teacher Project (TNTP).

In the case study, “Keeping Irreplaceables in D.C. Public Schools: Lessons in Smart Teacher Retention,” TNTP examined DCPS, which had instituted new teacher evaluation, accountability, and compensation systems over the past three years. D.C. retained about 88 percent of high-performing “irreplaceable” teachers in the past school year, and 45 percent of its lower-performing teachers left the district.

And yet, after analyzing data from four large urban districts, the project, a national nonprofit committed to ending the injustice of educational inequality, found a pattern of negligence and indifference toward retaining high-performing teachers. Two-thirds of school principals say that retaining these “irreplaceables” is not one of their top five priorities, according to the DCPS report.

In 2009, DCPS implemented higher performance standards that remove teachers who receive an “ineffective” or two consecutive “minimally effective” ratings on their evaluations, which are based in part on classroom observations and student achievement. The district also ties bonuses and raises to classroom performance; high-performing teachers can earn a base salary of $100,000 after only six years, and are much less likely to cite compensation as a primary reason for leaving than in other districts.

A November report by Accomplished California Teachers, a teacher-leadership network based at Stanford, also concludes that outdated teacher compensation systems and narrow career options for professional growth are major factors behind teacher turnover.

TNTP identified eight simple, low-cost retention strategies that administrators nationwide can instantly implement with teachers: provide regular, positive feedback; help identify areas of needed development; give critical feedback about performance in an informal setting; recognize accomplishments publicly; inform them when they are high-performing; identify opportunities for leadership roles; put them in charge of something important; and provide them with access to additional resources for the classroom.

“These are things administrators can start doing tomorrow that don’t require more funding, or a change to the school board policy,” says Dan Weisberg, TNTP’s executive vice president of performance management. “They are going to lead their schools to retain more of the best teachers, and make a real difference for kids.”

Principals shouldn’t be afraid to differentiate among their teachers, Weisberg adds. “Administrators don’t need to be passive,” he says. “They can target teachers who are doing a great job and address poor performance, and it will help to create a culture that attracts and retains great teachers.”

To read the report, go to