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Editorial: DISD’s teacher turnover rate needs deeper study

Dallas Morning News
December 12, 2013

During Mike Miles’ first year as superintendent, this newspaper recently reported, the Dallas school district lost 20.5 percent of its teachers. That was up from 17.8 percent as the Texas Education Agency reported the year before.

Whatever the number, some see it as reason to call foul.

But the turnover number per se doesn’t indicate Miles’s emphasis on better classroom instruction is the problem. Neither is the number necessarily alarming. It all depends upon what the raw numbers mean.

For one thing, a turnover rate that looks high isn’t bad if it consists of a sizable number of underperforming teachers. Students benefit from having teachers who drive achievement in their classrooms. If a teacher consistently fails to improve students’ grasp of math, reading, writing or English, it’s hard to see how that teacher will help students gain the skills they need to advance year after year.

You can’t demand change and then express shock when there is some.

For another thing, Dallas’ turnover rate isn’t terribly out of line with rates in other districts. The Texas Education Agency reports that the nearby Irving school district lost 20.5 percent of its teachers last year. The Houston school district lost 18.7 percent. DeSoto’s district lost 18.8 percent.

Yes, these turnover rates are greater than the state average. The TEA reports that the average turnover rate for Texas school districts is 15.3 percent. That figure is close to the 15.7 percent national turnover rate that The Atlantic reported on in October.

But the question is who is leaving and why. It’s hard to know the answers without more analysis of the data. And until we know the answers, it’s impossible to tell whether the turnover rate is a sign of progress or a symptom of failure.

Research by Richard Ingersoll, a respected University of Pennsylvania professor, shows that 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within their first five years in the classroom. There will be a churn within any profession, but such figures suggest some teachers could have benefited from a strong mentor, good coaching and backing from their principals. Ingersoll reports that the lack of support from administrators is a main reason beginning teachers exit early.

Delving into information like that could help DISD further understand its turnover rate. To what extent are teachers departing because of lack of mentoring or support from their principals?

Those are some of the pertinent questions in Dallas’ turnover rates. Answering them correctly, as Ingersoll has discovered in his research, could help Dallas improve and retain its teaching corps.

How to keep new teachers in the classroom

• Place them with a mentor

• Make sure the principal gives them regular support

• Offer seminars for beginning teachers

• Offer common planning time with other teachers

• Reduce their course load

• Provide a classroom aide

SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll, Education Week, May 16, 2012