The School District of Philadelphia is facing a new crisis: a high rate of teacher turnover that is leaving many schools with troubling staffing shortages — and too many children robbed of a quality education.
According to a new Inquirer report, 26 district schools are seeing rates of teacher turnover that far exceed the national average. These schools have been losing at least one-quarter of their teachers annually for the last four years, and more than that over two years. Meanwhile, according to the Economic Policy Institute, 13.8 percent of teachers are being lost across the country to turnover and attrition. More troubling, Philadelphia’s turnover is happening at the schools with the highest poverty and the most vulnerable students. That revolving door of teachers adds a new set of trauma to students and families that will surely have a detrimental effect on their futures.
A number of factors contribute to high turnovers: New and inexperienced teachers assigned to lower-performing or higher-poverty schools don’t get the support and training they need, and unable to cope with the challenges, they leave the district, or leave teaching altogether. More experienced teachers have the seniority to stay in high-performing schools, leaving many vacancies at struggling schools. Further, schools with strong leadership typically have teaching staff with less turnover and attrition. Schools with more problematic or inexperienced principals experience much higher rates of turnover. More training and education for leaders of schools seems an obvious solution.
This all creates a maddening cycle of low-performing schools doomed to remain that way because the stability, consistency, and leadership that it takes to maintain a high-performing school is forever out of reach. Low-performing schools remain in constant crisis mode.
“Crisis” is a term that has been attached to public education, especially in this city, for more than a couple of decades. While the district has made strides , it, too has spent too long in crisis mode. That may be necessary for putting out fires, but not for growing a healthy and relevant education system.
This crisis is not just in Philadelphia. The recent EPI report points out that there is a severe teacher shortage across the country. Far fewer students are getting education degrees, meaning a smaller pipeline of available and experienced teachers.
Of course, when you consider the tenor of any conversation about public education in the past 20 years, phrases like “broken” and “ failed” and “hopeless” don’t exactly encourage people to pursue education as a rewarding career; neither does low pay or tough working conditions.
The high rate of teacher turnover in Philadelphia is another sign that we have all failed the system.