A Quick Look at The Atlantic’s Teacher Retention Story

The Atlantic’s recent piece The Ongoing Struggle of Teacher Retention describes the many challenges of getting and keeping great teachers in the schools that need them most.

Part first-person memoir, the piece by writer Paul Barnwell describes his woefully inadequate preparation and untimely departure from the school to which he was first assigned. Barnwell goes through the many inequities among schools in the same districts, and the many costs. He also goes through the common strategies districts use to try and make things a little better, including combat pay, but suggests that some of the best ways to go might be more structural are those identified by Harvard’s Susan Moore Johnson (my former advisor!). These include “the provision of ample time to collaborate during the school day, strong and supportive principals, and a common vision that’s shared and executed by teachers and staff.”

Alas, Barnwell also relies on some outdated information about the costs of teacher turnover and the turnover rates for new teachers, and he doesn’t address some other compelling ways to make things works better for high-needs schools (like getting rid of the salary averaging techniques that allow some schools to fill every classroom with highly effective experts while others rely on rookies and subs). He also describes the NCLB requirements for teacher quality as onerous when in reality they were almost immediately watered down to favor both veteran teachers and rookies straight out of college.

Still, you might want to check it out, and also take a look at the work of The Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, which includes a recent study of six high-poverty schools of different kinds that have succeeded in getting and keeping great teachers. 

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.