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Teacher turnover rates critical in TN turnaround efforts

Teacher quality and retention are linked to the ASD and IZone schools’ success. (iStock)

Teacher turnover is playing a critical role in Tennessee’s ambitious efforts to turn around its lowest performing schools, according to a new Vanderbilt report.

Gary Henry (Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)
Gary Henry (Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)

Gary Henry and other researchers at the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development partnered with the University of Kentucky’s Ron Zimmer to examine the extent to which Tennessee schools engaging in school turnaround models have been able to recruit and retain highly effective teachers.

Examining data from the 2012-13 school year through 2014-15, the study focused on teacher retention in the two largest efforts to turn around Tennessee’s priority schools—those that rank in the bottom 5 percent in performance. They are:

  • Achievement School District (ASD), a state-run school district that as of the 2014-15 school year had assumed oversight of 23 low-performing schools in conjunction with external operators; and
  • Innovation Zones (iZones), an effort in which local districts received additional funding and flexibility to manage, as of the 2014-15 school year, 26 low-performing schools in separate units within their systems.

As of 2014-15, there were 28 additional Tennessee schools identified on the original priority school list supported by their districts under different arrangements.

“The story seems to be one of general success in getting effective teachers in the door of these turnaround schools, and the iZone schools are also managing to keep and improve them.”
—Gary Henry

Key findings in the new report:

  • Overall, both ASD and iZone schools recruited more highly effective teachers compared to other priority and non-priority schools in Tennessee.
  • Annual teacher turnover rates were much higher among ASD schools than among iZone schools. Turnover rates naturally will be high in a school’s first year in a turnaround reform, given the requirement that teachers in turnaround schools must reapply for their jobs at that point. But in the year following that procedure, the ASD experienced a teacher turnover rate of 50 percent among its first cohort of schools, and 49 percent for its second. Among iZone schools, the corresponding rates were 40 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
  • Overall, both ASD and iZone schools experienced significantly higher gains in teacher effectiveness through teacher replacement than did other priority schools in Tennessee. This was particularly true for iZone schools, where incoming teachers scored an average of 0.59 TVAAS points higher (on a 5-point scale) than those moving to other schools or leaving the profession. Among ASD schools, incoming teachers averaged 0.38 points higher than outgoing teachers.
  • Compared to other types of turnaround schools, iZone schools have generally succeeded in not just recruiting highly effective teachers, but also in retaining them and in developing teachers to higher levels of effectiveness.

“The story seems to be one of general success in getting effective teachers in the door of these turnaround schools, and the iZone schools are also managing to keep and improve them,” said Gary Henry, Patricia and Rodes Hart Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at Peabody. “Now we need to look more closely at what’s happening inside all these schools and among the governance models to better understand what’s working, and what’s not.”

The findings add to the picture painted by several previous Peabody reports, which examined Tennessee’s turnaround approaches in terms of student characteristics, learning outcomes, and mobility, as well as stakeholder perceptions.

“Part of the motivation for the examination was to see if we could provide insights into the student achievement results we saw in our last year study,” said co-author Ron Zimmer, director of the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy.

“This important work on teacher retention and effectiveness is another piece of the overall puzzle about what is and is not effective in driving improvement in low-performing schools in Tennessee,” said Erin O’Hara, executive director of the Tennessee Education Research Alliance. “We will continue to dig into the policies, practices and outcomes of schools in the Achievement School District, Innovation Zones and other models to provide them with actionable research on key areas of school improvement.”

Download the full report, Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in Tennessee’s Achievement School District and iZone Schools.

More about the Tennessee Education Research Alliance

The Tennessee Education Research Alliance is a unique research partnership between Peabody College and the Tennessee Department of Education committed to informing Tennessee’s school improvement efforts with useful, timely and high-quality studies.