This post looks at the underlying causes that contribute to inequitable access to high-quality teachers in one school district. “Identifying Root Causes” is one of the seven stages detailed in our new guide, Achieving Equitable Access to Strong Teachers: A Guide for District Leaders, which shares lessons learned from districts across the country and lays out a process that other districts can replicate to ensure that low-income students and students of color are taught by effective teachers throughout their schooling.

While districts have long focused on recruiting high-caliber teachers, leaders are increasingly coming to the conclusion that retention matters, too. This means cultivating a school culture that rewards effectiveness and provides opportunities for teachers to gain leadership experience. As one district leader put it, “[Teachers] won’t stay where they don’t have opportunity.”

So how can district and school leaders create a culture across the district that provides both opportunity and support for teachers? One approach is to ask teachers what kind of change they would like to see and what kind of changes would keep them at their current school.

A large, urban school district that we have worked with for the past several years is doing just that.

When district leaders initially analyzed their data, they identified a serious retention problem. In response, they conducted a comprehensive teacher survey, which revealed that teachers at schools with low retention rates consistently identified poor school leadership and a lack of collaboration among faculty as chief among the reasons that teachers were leaving the building in high numbers. They are now convening teachers who have left the district to learn from their experiences in order to keep others from exiting.

The district is also directing its retention efforts toward teachers who were rated effective or higher at schools with retention rates below 70 percent. Their equity-oriented approach to retention places a premium on retaining effective educators in high-poverty schools and those with large numbers of students of color, where teacher turnover is highest. District leaders are working to strengthen teacher training and looking at how to expand and improve leadership opportunities for teachers.

In one high-poverty school in the district — one that has experienced years of high turnover and low student scores — highly effective teachers are given opportunities to take on leadership roles without leaving the classroom. These teachers help train staff, mentor younger teachers, and lead schoolwide initiatives. Now, teachers are saying they don’t want to leave. “We are coming from a place where we had 50 percent of staff leave the building,” the principal said. “Now, we have very few openings, and we can be more selective in our hiring approach.”

“Some of the hardest work being done is in high-poverty schools, and it is never an easy place to work,” a district leader noted. “We want to make it a place where we provide greater support, where it is a rewarding place to work — a place where teachers have opportunities.”

Photo credit: Daymon J. Hartley