Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools


A new report from the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit research and training organization, titled “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools.” found that schools nationwide are facing a teacher retention crisis. The report released at an event featuring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle, and DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, spans four urban school districts encompassing 90,000 teachers and 1.4 million students. More than 22,000 teachers and more than 1,700 school leaders responded to the survey. The study takes a look at “Irreplaceable,” teachers − those in the top 20 percent measured by student improvement on achievement tests − who are so successful that they are nearly impossible to replace. When one leaves a low-performing school, it can take up to 11 hires to find another of comparable quality. High-quality teachers are ignored and undervalued, which results in failure to improve the quality of instruction and raising the status of the teaching profession.

“Top teachers seem to be shortchanged at every turn,” the report concluded. “Policies at the state and local level often cause them to earn less than their least effective colleagues and fail to protect them in the event of layoffs. They endure districts and schools that fail to value their talents and do not provide them with supportive school cultures.”

Below is an outline of the report:


1. Principals make too little effort to retain “Irreplaceables” or remove low-performing teachers

2. Poor School cultures and working conditions drive away great teachers

3. Policies give principals and district leaders few incentives to change their ways


1. School turnaround is nearly impossible

2. The teaching profession is degraded


1. Make retention of “Irreplaceables” a top priority

  • Set a goal of retaining more that 90% of “Irreplaceables” annually
  • Overhaul principal hiring, support and evaluation
  • Monitor school working conditions
  • Pay “Irreplaceables” what they’re worth
  • Protect “Irreplaceables” during layoffs

2. Strengthen the teaching profession through higher expectations

  • Set a new baseline standard for effectiveness
  • Encourage low performers to leave voluntarily
  • Remove the policy barriers to higher expectations

To read the Executive Summary, click here.

What are your thoughts? Is this report accurate with your experience? What are some of your ideas for teacher retention?

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