Collaboration of Professional Community Required to Address Shameful Issue of Hard-to-Staff Schools

This post was originally published on the Learning First Alliance’s Public School Insights blog.

The teaching profession is well known for losing almost 50% of its novices in the first 5 years. This churn is concentrated in high-need schools, which have a hard time attracting teachers in the first place. Not only does this “revolving door” phenomenon increase the chance that students with the greatest educational needs will be taught by an inexperienced teacher, but it is also financially costly in recruitment, staffing, and induction burdens.

Why can’t we find a better way to staff high-need schools? If we could reduce the churn of novice teachers, even by 30%, how might that positively impact student achievement—and reallocate the financial savings for learning needs?

These questions are hardly new, but it is high time they are addressed. We cannot still be asking the same questions 20 years from now.

Of course, educator preparation programs cannot address these critical issues alone, but AACTE members are eager to collaborate across the professional community to get started. Not only do we have a moral imperative to improve students’ experience in schools, but our graduates also deserve to work in supportive environments that are professionally fulfilling rather than demoralizing. Further, our programs increasingly are judged on our graduates’ success in practice—so the whole educator preparation enterprise is inextricably connected to the settings where our graduates work.

I am thrilled to report that we are starting down this collaborative path with AACTE’s new Educator Workforce Advisory Task Force, assembled to tackle the charge of increasing novice teacher retention in schools that overwhelmingly have the most high-need students and most challenging working conditions. Convened as part of our new Innovation Exchange, this task force of teacher educators, teachers, principals, district administrators, school board members, state leaders, and others held its first meeting March 20.

The initial charge of the task force, facilitated by Lisa Stooksberry, senior vice president for standards and assessment, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is to examine challenges of and opportunities for increasing teacher retention, and then to develop a conceptual framework for a collaborative initiative to increase novice retention in hard-to-staff schools.

At the meeting last month, we were fortunate to have Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, whose presentation of research on trends in the educator workforce and beginning teacher induction helped frame the issue at hand.

Research shows teacher turnover undermines school stability, is harmful to school culture, and has a significant and negative impact on student achievement, Ingersoll reminded us. In particular, turnover is most harmful to underserved student populations in low-performing schools where recruiting and retaining qualified and experienced teachers—especially in poor urban and isolated rural areas—is difficult. These high-poverty schools have been shown to have the highest proportion of teachers with less than 3 years of experience.

National Education Association representative and task force member Becky Pringle reinforced the group’s charge with the assertion, “It’s not that we should; we must as a profession really step up to this moral responsibility. It has gotten away from us.”

While each of us knows of interventions that have been attempted to address this matter, we lack a systemic fix. Various efforts have successfully attracted teachers into high-need schools, but these novices usually don’t stay. Signing bonuses, subject matter expertise, and newcomer’s zeal are not enough to overcome working conditions that are not conducive to success. The task force is taking a deep look at the issue to understand levers that need to be adjusted and aligned to improve it, while making high-need student populations the target of this focused effort.

It is critically important that high-need schools become magnets for talent, paying practitioners in a way that is commensurate with the working conditions. The much-discussed figure of 50% attrition in the first 5 years creates a dynamic that influences everyone’s vision of successful practice, but American public education can ill afford this crisis of confidence.

We must support our novice teachers in realizing their ambition and their students’ potentials. We must lead the effort in making a systematic change.

The next meeting of the Educator Workforce Advisory Task Force will be held mid-summer 2014. Keep up with this and other components of AACTE’s Innovation Exchange at

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE