A new report released by the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) finds that the average yearly teacher turnover rate in the District of Columbia is 25%. The national average? Only 16%. In fact, D.C.’s teacher turnover rate (across both traditional public and public charter schools) is higher than other comparable jurisdictions, including New York, Chicago and Milwaukee.

For both public and charter schools, the highest turnover is taking place at schools with the most at-risk students, with the rate pushing past 30% in Wards 5 and 8.

What is causing these alarming rates of teacher attrition in the District? And how is it affecting students on a daily basis and in the long run?

Produced by Monna Kashfi


  • Elizabeth Davis President, Washington Teachers Union; @WTUTeacher
  • Markus Batchelor Vice President, D.C. State Board of Education; @MarkusSBOE
  • Emma Quigg Member of the 2018-2019 Student Advisory Committee for the D.C. State Board of Education
  • Tatiana Robinson Student representative on the D.C. State Board of Education 2017-2019; @thetatiana_


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll hear how a car free week went for elected officials in Montgomery County and find out why driving is still the preferred mode of transportation for the majority of people in this region.

  • 12:00:18

    KOJO NNAMDIBut first, are you a teacher in the District? Has teacher turnover in your school been an issue? A new report commissioned by the D.C. State Board of Education found that the District has one of the highest rates of teacher turnover in the country. So what is it that's causing D.C. teachers to leave their jobs? And how is it affecting students on a daily basis? Joining me in studio to talk about this is Markus Batchelor. He is the Vice President of the D.C. State Board of Education. He also represents Ward 8 on that board. Markus Batchelor, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:49

    MARKUS BATCHELORThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:00:50

    NNAMDIWhy did the D.C. State Board of Education decide to commission this report?

  • 12:00:53

    BATCHELORYeah. There were a lot of reasons, but one was a news report that came out in May of 2017 that told us that nearly 200 teachers in the D.C. Public School system had left the system at some point over the course of the last school year. That means they made midyear exits. Myself and five other of my colleagues on the State Board wrote a letter to the Council Committee on Education urging them to hold a standalone hearing on the issue of teacher turnover.

  • 12:01:22

    BATCHELORLong story short, we were rebuffed by that request. I think toe in the line that DCPS had retained a 90 something percent of highly effective teachers. What we knew anecdotally was that that wasn't the case. And so we commissioned an independent report to analyze data that existed, which isn't necessarily a lot because both systems don't consistently track turnover data and the reasons teachers leave pretty consistently, but what we found was what we already knew.

  • 12:01:54

    NNAMDITell us what were the main findings of this report.

  • 12:01:56

    BATCHELORWas that the District of Columbia had a higher than a national average turnover rate of teachers and a higher than average turnover from comparable urban school districts. We also knew that in low income or schools that a larger amount of at-risk students that that turnover rate was exponentially larger. And what we were hearing anecdotally from both teachers and students was that it was having a real impact on school culture and the long term success of schools and students. And I know Emma can speak to this better than we can, but we knew that once we had the numbers, once we were able to prove what we were saying that we had more work to do to figure out those reasons why and then propose commonsense solutions to that. And that's the course we're on right now.

  • 12:02:48

    NNAMDIEmma is Emma Quigg. She's a graduate of BASIS D.C. Public Charter School and served as a member of the Student Advisory Committee for the D.C. State Board of Education. She joins us in studio. Emma, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:03:00

    EMMA QUIGGThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:03:02

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Elizabeth Davis. She is the President of the Washington Teachers Union. Elizabeth Davis, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:03:08


  • 12:03:09

    NNAMDIMarkus, before we go any further. Tell us what the role of the State Board of Education is in the District. You're not a traditional school board.

  • 12:03:17

    BATCHELORThat's right. So unlike comparable boards in the region, the State Board of Education is mainly a policy board. So we have very narrow statutory authority over statewide things such as graduation requirements, teaching standards, basically the what teachers teach and what students learn as opposed to the day to day operation of the system, which is in control of the mayor. But the Board has taken a very clear role in also being a bully pulpit for those things that we know need focus in our system. And so teacher turnover has been one of those things over the past couple of years.

  • 12:03:53

    NNAMDIElizabeth Davis, this report focused only on employment data to calculate the turnover rates. It doesn't go into the reasons why teachers in D.C. are leaving their positions so frequently, but the Washington Teachers Union has been collecting that information from your members. What are you seeing as the main causes for this turnover?

  • 12:04:12

    DAVISRight. Because of the reasons we wanted to include in our contract negotiations was a language that would deal with teacher turnover. The fact that we did not have a teacher induction program is one of the problems. We'll recruit new teachers each year. We have no support system for them. But the exit interviews that we've conducted over the past four years with teachers who came into the system within one to three years and left right within three years after is what we focus a lot of attention on. And although the last three chancellors basically regurgitated the same response to the high teacher turnover rate that we retained 90 percent of our highly effective teachers is not the solution.

  • 12:04:55

    DAVISWe are looking at the number of teachers that exit each year and what they are saying in the way of lacking support, not feeling as if they have sufficient mentoring, instructional coaching during that first three years. And, of course, in most instances it points to the highly subjective teacher performance evaluation system, which does not really give a lot of concern to new teachers and support for new teachers. So we're looking at the reason for the turnover rate. We know that it's creating a lot of instability. We began reporting that in 2014 to the Council and to DCPS. But we're now looking at the reasons why teachers are saying they're leaving or have left the system or are considering leaving.

  • 12:05:37

    NNAMDIThe report shows that 53 percent of the teachers that left over five years were rated effective or highly effective. But what do you mean by insufficient support? What does that support actually look like in schools right now?

  • 12:05:51

    DAVISWell, the teacher induction program in DCPS was dismantled in 2007. Basically it was a program to support new teachers. It provided a mentor site based instructional coaching ongoing sustained for at least one to three years. And that program, of course, as a result of us getting rid of that program new teachers are basically left on their own for the first year. We've lost new teachers who were inducted within that same year. We tracked these teachers from the new teacher orientation the very first day of the school year by cosponsoring the new teacher orientation in order for us to be able to know, who they are and to be able to track what schools they're assigned to, what support they're in need of, and try to provide that support. But we're looking for the school district to provide ongoing --

  • 12:06:38

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Mary Ellen, who says, teachers are asking for professional development to help assist our students from challenging backgrounds and they're not receiving those trainings. It causes lots of emotional stress and anxiety. Is that what you're talking about?

  • 12:06:50

    DAVISAbsolutely. That is just a part of it.

  • 12:06:53

    NNAMDIWhat is the impact evaluation and why do you think that is also driving teachers to quit?

  • 12:07:00

    DAVISThe impact evaluation is the performance evaluation program used for all school workers not only teachers, principals, custodians, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals. And, of course, over the years teachers perceive that they don't like it. They perceive it as being extremely subjective and it's actually in some cases have become highly weaponized used to do other than assess the performance of a teacher. So we want to collaborate with DCPS on designing a new evaluation system with the inclusion of teachers, parents as well as principals. And, of course, we're looking for that to happen this year with the chancellor.

  • 12:07:41

    DAVISBut the impact evaluation has been at the core, it is the centerpiece for D.C. reform strategies, and it has basically been at the core of why many teachers are feeling under pressure and, of course, undervalued. And the fact that they had no input in what evaluation system would be used, it's a system that makes them feel highly disrespected.

  • 12:08:02

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the new schools chancellor said he's going to be looking at this over the course of the next two years. You're saying that you and the teachers your represent would like it to end this year.

  • 12:08:13

    DAVISEnd or revised, and we have offered a revision of impact. We call it Impact 2.0, but we've also offered recommendations for an entirely new system. The point is, Kojo, that we want teachers to be involved in whatever performance evaluation system is going to be used for school workers. You know, one of the facts of any evaluation system particularly teacher evaluation is if teachers don't trust it, it's not a good system. And teachers clearly do not trust Impact.

  • 12:08:44

    NNAMDIMarkus Batchelor, where did the data show the turnover rate being the highest in the District?

  • 12:08:49

    BATCHELORYeah. So like I mentioned earlier, the turnover rate on average is higher in communities where you have a larger population of at-risk students. We also see a higher turnover rate in our middle schools, on average at DCPS from year to year it's about a 32 percent turnover whereas elementary or high schools are closer to 25 percent. But we're also seeing teachers leaving our system over time. What we know is that all the research shows to really have an effective turnaround and to really put a school on a path for long term success and put students on a path for long term success, you need three to five years to really do that work meaningfully with the staff inside your building.

  • 12:09:34

    BATCHELOROver the course of three years, you see 54 percent of DCPS teachers leaving the system all together. Over the course of five, that's 70 percent, which means that most schools are starting from scratch after two or three years.

  • 12:09:49

    NNAMDITell us about what's going on in Wards 5 and Ward 8. The teacher turnover rates at some of those schools is more than 30 percent.

  • 12:09:59

    BATCHELORYeah. And I mean, we see that for a lot of different reasons, but I think a lot of them are where President Davis just said is that for teachers to be equipped with the tools and the experience and the supports that they need to really adequately support students facing many barriers to academic success they need to have that support. And what you're finding is that a lot of teachers are leaving our system because they --

  • 12:10:27

    NNAMDIAnd they can't find qualified teachers to replace them?

  • 12:10:29

    BATCHELORWell, I mean --

  • 12:10:30

    NNAMDIOr they have a hard time.

  • 12:10:31

    BATCHELORYeah. I mean, that's a problem too. I mean, but what we're seeing is that, you know, what we don't want is consistent turnover. What we want -- what students want is the surety that teachers are going to be in the building. That teachers are going to be well-equipped and adequately supported to serve their needs. And so, you know, I don't think the point is necessarily the replacement, but it's about making sure that teachers feel supported inside the classroom.

  • 12:10:56

    NNAMDIEmma Quigg, public charter schools are also included in this reports. Are the rates of teacher turnover described in this report an accurate reflection of what you saw at your school, BASIS D.C. Public Charter School?

  • 12:11:09

    QUIGGSo at my public charter school we actually a 50 percent turnover rate last year, my junior year of high school. And the years before that it was about the same. So in the report it said around 25 percent, I believe, but at my school that just was not an accurate reflection of what was going on.

  • 12:11:28

    NNAMDITell us about your personal experience. How were you most affected by teachers leaving?

  • 12:11:33

    QUIGGYeah. So there was a lot of ways that every student was impacted by the constant turnover of teachers and admin. One of those ways was a classmate of mine had a really hard time finding letters of recommendation for college, because when you're constantly coming into a classroom seeing new people, year to year you're going to school with people, who don't know who you are, it's really hard to form those relationships. On top of that, the example I always like to use is my Spanish class. I'm pretty sure I learned more from Duolingo than I actually did from the five plus years of Spanish that I took.

  • 12:12:07

    NNAMDIDuolingo is an app.

  • 12:12:08

    QUIGGYes. Duolingo is an app. It was just every teacher, when you have somebody coming in who doesn't know the students' backgrounds, what they know, they have new expectations and it's really hard to learn from that, because it's a learning curve not just for us, but for the teachers as well.

  • 12:12:26

    NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone is Tatiana Robinson, graduate of Ballou High School, served as a student representative on the D.C. State Board of Education from 2017 to the end of the school year. Tatiana, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:12:40

    TATIANA ROBINSONThanks for having me.

  • 12:12:41

    NNAMDITell us about your personal experience with teacher turnover at Ballou and what happened with your 10th grade math class.

  • 12:12:49

    ROBINSONSo at Ballou oftentimes you would see new teachers every year. I had been fortunate enough, for example, to have an English teacher who was my teacher from 9th to 11th grade year, and this year she is an instructional coach. But you just don't see a lot of same teachers, especially in math. So 10th grade we started out not having a math teacher, because they said that the person just hadn't shown up. And then we did get one about November and they left Christmas break, to say that they were returning home to get their Masters. And we didn't get another teacher until April or May.

  • 12:13:30

    NNAMDIAnd you had to learn -- it's my understanding that you had to learn 10th grade math mostly on your own.

  • 12:13:37

    ROBINSONYes. And fortunately enough I'm actually double majoring in math and computer science in college. So math is my strong suit. So I was even helping some of my peers, but for the most part we were on our own besides the few lessons that we got from the math vice principal.

  • 12:13:54

    NNAMDIWhat effect did not having a math teacher for an entire year have on attendance in that class?

  • 12:14:00

    ROBINSONOftentimes, honestly, the students didn't show, because they felt there was no need to because there wasn't a teacher. And that affected them, you know, with the new attendance policy and everything. So that was probably one of the reasons, because we do have a long term substitute. And they're just giving you busy work and things. And also at times you don't get it because everyone in the class is on a different level. It's kind of hard to find that balance of students wanting to come to class, because everyone's on a different level.

  • 12:14:30

    NNAMDIGot to take short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on teacher turnover in D.C. both in traditional public schools and in public charter schools. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:14:53

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about teacher turnover in D.C. with Markus Batchelor, Vice President of the D.C. State Board of Education. Elizabeth Davis is the President of the Washington Teachers Union. Emma Quigg is a graduate of BASIS D.C. Public Charter School, also served as a member of the Student Advisory Committee for the D.C. State Board of Education. And Tatiana Robinson is a graduate of Ballou High School, served as Student Representative on the D.C. State Board of Education from 2017 to the end of the school year. We got a tweet from John who asked, Can any of your panelists talk about the student behaviors that teachers deal with and must manage instead of actual instruction? This is the number one reason teachers talk about when they say they need support. I'd like to hear both you, Tatiana and Emma talk about that. Emma, I'll start with you.

  • 12:15:39

    QUIGGYeah. So when it comes to teacher behaviors one thing I noticed in the Spanish class that I spoke about earlier was that students became really bitter, because at the end of the day, what were we learning? We were learning about getting a new teacher and how to handle that and all the busy work instead of learning about Spanish culture and the language. So I think there definitely -- I've seen teachers leave, because they're not getting backed up by admin too when they send a student out for being disruptive.

  • 12:16:08

    QUIGGThat kid just can hang out in the dean's suite instead of actually getting reprimanded for disrupting educational time. And I think that leads to a lot of frustration for the teachers and the students as well, who are trying really hard to focus on their work and learn whatever the subject is. But student behavior is an issue, however, I think, overall in terms of teacher retention teachers are leaving, because of the school culture and not being supported enough like Ms. Davis was speaking about earlier.

  • 12:16:40

    NNAMDITatiana, what's been your experience with that?

  • 12:16:43

    ROBINSONAgain, there is a lack of respect, when you have constantly new people coming in to be with your class. And, again, one of the main findings of our students advisory committee report, which will be out for Wednesday's public meeting, a lot of teachers stated that there is a lack of communication between the schools and the teachers themselves and they feel like they aren't being fully supported at times having those discipline supports when students are being disrespectful.

  • 12:17:18

    ROBINSONAnd then another thing in our report was we had a lot of recommendations for the board and two things were -- number one that we recommended that before teachers and staff members come to work at schools, especially first year teachers that we give them opportunity to teach a sample lesson or something like that just to get a glimpse of a school culture, because oftentimes you do find schools like maybe BASIS and Ballou who will have those behavior problems because there just aren't stable adults in the building that can help with that.

  • 12:17:52

    ROBINSONBut we're recommending that before people come in that they get a glimpse by giving a sample lesson. And also we're recommending the creation of a mentoring program for highly effective workers to help teachers who need -- that are proven on the Impact system that we talked about, because, again, oftentimes teachers just need that communication and that support especially with being a first year teacher on how to manage the classes and things of that sort. And we feel that a mentoring program would do just that.

  • 12:18:22

    NNAMDIElizabeth Davis.

  • 12:18:23

    DAVISI was thinking of the Fair Access to School Act, which was a good idea passed by the Council, but it was an unfunded mandate. It basically put the pressure on schools to retain students with Tier 3 and 4 and 5 behavior infractions. And, of course, we want to see -- we want to stem the tide of having students disproportionately suspended, because of race and class, but at the same time we do not want put the weight on schools, a new mandate, a new initiative without having the funds to prepare schools or the resources or staff to work with students who come to school with socially emotional problems that causes them to act out.

  • 12:19:00

    DAVISSo there are a number of reasons and, of course, as a teacher we are always concerned about whether or not students fair better if they're in school. But we also want to see schools provide the resources, the staff, and the support that students need, who need additional help.

  • 12:19:15

    NNAMDISpeaking of students who need additional help, Emma Quigg, you've said that the instability created within the school community from so many teachers coming and going not only has a negative effect on school culture, but also has a negative effect on the mental health of students.

  • 12:19:30

    QUIGGYeah. I would definitely say, because you're not having that support where you're going to school. You're seeing people that you constantly know. And that creates a lot of resentment within the student body. There's actually a meeting at my school where so many students were saying, "Kill yourself," to other students or "I'm going to kill myself," that they had a meeting deciding where or not they could step in in those instances, because if they did they weren't sure how much time they would have left in class to actually teach the material, because it happened so frequently.

  • 12:20:03

    QUIGGAnd students -- a lot of times there's a lot of pressure on them to succeed and that's really hard to do when you're not clear on what the expectations for yourself are. When you're constantly meeting new staff members who have new ideas for what you should be doing when you've been the previous year thinking, this is what I'm supposed to do or for the first half of the year we had a Spanish teacher, who would show us telenovelas on Fridays. Then a new person came in and was expecting us to read "Don Quixote." You know, totally different expectations that makes student really depressed, because they can't keep up in class.

  • 12:20:39

    NNAMDIHere is Benjamin in Washington D.C. Benjamin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:44

    BENJAMINThank you. I just want to echo and raise and reiterate what the panelists have already said, but I think that focusing on the adult culture in schools and improving adult culture will ultimate create that level of trust and support that students also need.

  • 12:21:00

    NNAMDIWhat do you mean by focusing on the adult culture?

  • 12:21:03

    BENJAMINI mean, building trust and collaboration with teachers, creating a culture where teachers are excited to come to work every day and don't feel anxious or fearful of a teacher evaluation Impact score and are really able to do their best work while being in a culture that supports them innovating and trying new things. And not feeling scared to make mistakes.

  • 12:21:30

    NNAMDIOkay. Markus Batchelor, have we reached a crisis point with these turnover rates?

  • 12:21:35

    BATCHELOROh absolutely, I mean, you know, what we hear is that what we've heard from Emma and Tatiana and the countless number of folks, who come and engage the Board around this issue over the past two years, is that this issue impacts our students most acutely. And we should not walk away not really underscoring that. Some, you know, elected leaders in our city like to throw this issue away as some meaningless adult issue, but the reason that the State Board took up this work is because it most acutely impacts our students.

  • 12:22:08

    BATCHELORAnd so, you know, the fact is we've seen what it means. It means instruction time. It means lack of trust, lack of a cohesive culture. And if we're going to adequately educate our students, especially the students who need the most support all of those things have to fall in line, which means that we have to retain the teachers we have. We have to support them and we have to make sure that they have all that they need to make sure our students are successful.

  • 12:22:36

    NNAMDIGlad you mentioned that because we're almost out of time. Elizabeth Davis, where are these teachers going and what do you think is the most effective way of retaining them here in the District?

  • 12:22:46

    DAVISMany of them are going to school districts in the surrounding jurisdiction. Some are going to other professions. Looking at the problem and not the symptom of the problem, the symptom is turnover that the root of the problem is -- and Benjamin alluded to it as well, school climate and culture that has been cultivated over the last 12 years of fear. The leadership in schools, who basically use the evaluation system as a way of controlling and managing teachers, a lack of respect that is felt not only by teachers, but also by students.

  • 12:23:13

    DAVISSo actually having an ongoing -- first of all a teacher induction program, changing the culture and climate from the top down. When Michelle Rhee came in in 2007 she said two things at the National Press Club. After five years, teachers should go home and that collaboration is overrated. That mentality and that thinking is still somewhat embedded in the way the school district is being led and it has to change.

  • 12:23:34

    NNAMDIAlmost out of time, but Emma what are your plans now that you're done with high school?

  • 12:23:37

    QUIGGI'm going to be attending Duke University on the premed advising track, very excited.

  • 12:23:42


  • 12:23:43

    NNAMDICongratulations to you. Just don't root for the basketball team.

  • 12:23:46


  • 12:23:48

    NNAMDITatiana will be attending, it is my understanding, the University of Miami; is that correct?

  • 12:23:52


  • 12:23:53

    NNAMDIWell, Tatiana, good luck to you also. Markus Batchelor, Elizabeth Davis, Emma Quigg, thank you all for joining us.

  • 12:23:58

    DAVISThank you inviting us.

  • 12:23:59

    BATCHELORThank for having me.

  • 12:24:00

    QUIGGThank you for having us.

  • 12:24:01

    NNAMDIGoing to take a short break, when we come back, we'll be talking with the officials from Montgomery County who took a car-free week. We'll find out how that went and what their suggestions are for improving access to public transportation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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