A couple months ago, as thousands of DC Public Schools students and teachers kicked off the 2019-2020 school year, a former DCPS employee filed a grievance with DCPS’ central office in response to a series of events he said eventually led to his decision to leave the teaching profession, including his designation as a “minimally effective” teacher.
In his letter to Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee, the former math teacher, who requested anonymity during the ongoing appeals process, criticized administrators who failed to issue warnings about his alleged tardies while piling on work responsibilities unrelated to the subject area assigned to him.
He also asked that DCPS officials revisit his score on the IMPACT evaluation, an assessment of a teacher’s institutional practices and culture, and their ability to help students succeed, arguing that the tool doesn’t take into account circumstances beyond an instructor’s control that inhibit student learning.
“There are teachers who cannot effectively teach because their demographic of students are subjected to localized and citywide influences that negatively affect their attendance, performance, social-emotional wellbeing as well as overall contentment with school,” the D.C. resident, said.
“I feel compelled to challenge DCPS because the IMPACT evaluation system has imposed a false sense of accountability onto teachers meanwhile diverting from holding the system accountable for their lack of attention to the demographics in need and the educators who educate them,” the teacher added.
The District’s teacher turnover rate of 25 percent, measured in intervals of three to five years, stands among the highest in the country. Those affected teach students at schools located in Wards 5, 7, and 8. A report released last year found that 50 percent of DCPS teachers leave the school system after five years.
Data shows that those who have stayed in DCPS the longest earned high marks of their IMPACT evaluation. However, the degree to which those scores reflect pedagogical effective, and not favoritism, as been a topic of discussion in the decade since DCPS started using IMPACT.
Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) leaders have implicated IMPACT evaluations, particularly in instances of tenuous teacher-administrator relationships, a key driver of teacher defection. This belief compelled a protest during an annual teacher awards program in February and questions directed at Chancellor Ferebee during confirmation around that time.
Across the country, Black and Latino teachers, out of frustration with the status quo, have left the classroom at rates greater than their white counterparts. Its for that reason that white teachers count among the majority of the K-12 education workforce in the United States. A September 25 study by the Education Trust and Teach Plus framed an antagonistic school culture and work conditions, feelings of not having value, and lack of agency as key reasons Black and Latino teachers leave the profession.
The study, titled “If You Listen, We Will Stay: Why Teachers of Color Leave and How to Disrupt Teacher Turnover,” included recommendations that schools create culturally safe environments, affirm teachers’ racial identity, make more investments in their professional development, and adopt District-wide policy geared toward retaining teachers of color.
“The first thing is thinking about how to make the school’s values, belief and moral align with teachers,” said Davis Dixon, a researcher who worked on the study along with Ashley Griffin and Mark Teoh. Their findings came from a series of focus group interviews with Black and Latino teachers.
“Teachers of color said school wasn’t just a place for kids to get good grades and memorize information,” added Dixon, who recently stepped into a professorial role at Hampton University. “They should also learn about their race and culture and gain a sense of responsibility and duty to their community. We have to build schools in line with those values, because when teachers of color feel that isn’t the goal, it creates a misalignment.”
In 2018, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) launched a committee dedicated to teacher retention. In its report that October, the committee recommended the collection and maintenance of teacher and principal retention data. The proposed research project would also point out linkages between teacher turnover and student success.
As SBOE gears up for an October 23 public hearing about teacher retention, the teacher retention committee continues to shape a survey that will eventually go to former DCPS and D.C. public charter school teachers who left within the last two years.
While the date of survey’s release has yet to be determined, Ward 4 SBOE Representative Frazier O’Leary, also head of the teacher retention committee, said it will be the first step in fully deciphering what’s causing teachers to find employment elsewhere.
With this never-before-collected information, O’Leary, a retired teacher, said SBOE can hopefully pressure District public and public charter schools to implement safeguards against the ongoing exodus of teachers.
“We’re trying to figure out why teachers leave. It’s not because of retirement or promotion,” he told The Informer.
“What we really want to know is how to keep new teachers,” O’Leary continued. “The majority of those who leave teaching are in the system for less than five years. At least we’ll have the info to act on it. We’ll let everyone know about it. It will encourage them to alter their styles. We want teachers to stay.”