Teacher-blogger JD2718 jetted off to New Orleans yesterday for a stint organizing teachers there, but before he left he posted some interesting news on his blog: for the first time, state report cards being released shortly will include teacher turnover data for each school.
“How calculated?” JD2718 asks. “Total teachers who don’t return, divided by total teachers in the new school year. It’s about as simple as it gets.” As a UFT chapter leader, JD2718 is attracted to the data as a way to identify which schools are unpleasant places for teachers to work and then to narrow in on any administrative abuses that might be taking place there. But this information isn’t only useful for teachers — a school that’s unpleasant for teachers is likely to be unpleasant for students and parents as well, in a way that may or may not be reflected in its test scores.
The teacher turnover information that will become available whenever the 2007 school reports are released — they’re months later than usual already — is limited. At least at first, the report cards will document only a one-year turnover snapshot, so it won’t be possible to make inferences about larger trends at individual schools. In addition, there are many perfectly acceptable reasons for teachers to leave their schools, but we won’t be able to tell why teachers have left. And we won’t be able to extract any useful information about new schools that are still scaling up because the total number of teachers in the fall is always larger than in the preceding spring at those schools; the simple formula will fail in these cases.
These limitations shouldn’t stop you from seeking information about teacher turnover at schools where you’re considering enrolling or working. Once you know have a snapshot idea of teacher stability, you can ask for more details to find out the circumstances of each teacher’s departure and whether the year described on the report card is representative of a typical year at the school. Even more promising is what JD2718 notes: once we have multiple years’ worth of teacher turnover data from report cards, we’ll be able to start detecting trends and schools that have persistent turnover — assuming, of course, that the formula used to calculate the teacher turnover rate and the method of collecting the information remains the same over time.