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City aims to help principals understand teachers' exit patterns

New York City is hoping that more information about which teachers leave city schools will help principals hold on to the best ones.

Starting today, the Department of Education plans to release annual reports about teacher retention that detail — by their performance ratings — which teachers resign, retire, stay on, are fired, or are promoted.

“Having detailed information about teacher performance and retention at their fingertips will better enable our principals to develop staff and retain our best and brightest,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

The “Smart Retention” reports were inspired by a report released last year by TNTP, a group that advocates for aggressive changes to hiring and firing practices in public schools. The TNTP report, called the “Irreplaceables,” found that weak and strong teachers leave school districts at roughly the same rate and argued that districts could adopt low-cost strategies to hold on to top performers.

The reports cite the TNTP study and show retention and attrition patterns by their growth scores, which the state is calculating for some teachers, and their ratings under the city’s current evaluation system. Principals can also see the “exit paths” for the different categories of teachers, look at how their schools’ patterns have changed over time, and compare what happens at their school to what happens across the city.

“Any principal in New York who is looking at their data, this is all things they’ve seen before,” said Anne Martin Williams, the department official leading their development, when she premiered a draft of the Smart Retention report to a group of district and charter school leaders in March. “But it’s never been in one place like this, with resources attached to it.”

Those resources include a tip sheet about recognizing and rewarding top teachers, in keeping with a teacher appreciation prize that the city launched this year. “Customize recognition strategies to individual teachers’ interests and personalities,” reads one tip on the sheet, which comes with a sample “Kudos” form originally used by a Michigan community college.

Williams said the department would also give principals information about existing resources around how to usher “consistently low-performing” teachers out of their schools. “A lot of principals use the resources a lot and some don’t at all,” she said.

After rising for six years, the number of teachers awarded “unsatisfactory” ratings fell last year. That was supposed to be the last time teachers were rated under the old evaluation system, but because the city and its teachers union never agreed on a new evaluation system, teachers will receive “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” ratings one last time this year. Next week, State Education Commissioner John King is set to impose an evaluation system on the city for next year that factors student performance into teachers’ ratings.

Next year, the retention reports will reflect the new ratings. “As the citywide evaluation work evolves we will obviously have more detailed information about teacher performance (based on multiple measures) which will provide for greater ability for schools to understand relationship between retention and teacher effectiveness,” said a department spokeswoman, Erin Hughes.

The department has made accountability for principals paramount for years, factoring their compliance with various mandates into their annual ratings. But principals won’t be expected to hit any particular retention targets, Hughes said.

“When and if we have a teacher evaluation deal we’ll have a lot better information about teachers,” Williams said in March. “This year our goal is to change the conversation, create new vocabulary, and put some resources in principals’ hands.”

A sample report is below:

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