Oakland faces a challenging teacher shortage that we must address to improve educational outcomes for children across the 78 square miles of this city. One of the best ways to address the shortage is by increasing teacher retention—if we keep more of our great teachers in Oakland classrooms, we will dramatically reduce the number of hires we need to make each year. Keeping teachers provides stability for our students and saves thousands of dollars in replacement costs[1].

We are continuing to focus on – and provide funding for– teacher retention strategies because we know great teachers are essential to student success. As a city, we must get better at supporting and retaining our best teachers. We must help every school be a professional environment where great teachers choose to stay. Our Teacher Advisory Group, citywide teacher survey, and retention grants put Oakland teachers in the driver’s seat to identify gaps and implement solutions, because  research shows that engaging educators at the school level can increase teacher retention[2] and even lead to ideas for broader system-wide fixes.

We are thrilled today to announce the 2017-18 Educate78 Oakland Teacher Retention Grant winners! Last year, we launched our Oakland Teacher Retention Grant Program, awarding $125,000 to 12 teacher-led teams across the City. These grants empower teachers to change the conditions at their school that are preventing teachers like themselves from staying. Oakland teachers know best what is needed in their schools to improve teacher success and retention. We did a video report out on their experiences. We also worked with our Teacher Advisory Group to delve into what worked and what we could build on for the second year.

Here is what we learned from 2016-17 retention grants:

  • Identify root causes, and do what is doable: Teacher retention is affected by many factors – some of which are systemic and community-wide. Grant teams identified root causes that they could change at their individual school, and ideas that could be tested in one year.
  • Prioritize it: Launching something new requires many team members to take on new work. Successful grant teams made teacher retention a top priority for the year, and saw this work as critical to achieving their school-wide goals – not just “nice to have.”
  • Measure early and often:  Successful grant teams planned how they would measure success over the year, including surveys, interviews, observations. With this feedback, they made course corrections during the year, even before year-end retention data was available.

For 2017-18, we have increased our total funding for Teacher Retention Grants to $150,000! We are thrilled to award grants to five second-year grant teams, eight first-year grant teams, and five individual teachers. Check out the complete map of all 18 recipients here or click on the inset. We noticed some themes in this year’s applications, which highlight our teachers’ needs:

  • More requests for basic needs: Likely driven by OUSD’s spring budget cuts, we received many retention grant proposals for basic materials and resources. We know from our Citywide Teacher Engagement Survey that “basic needs” are foundational to teacher engagement and retention.
  • Continued requests for more student supports around social and emotional learning: Similar to our first round of grant awards, many teams sought to provide more training for teachers, staffing for student’s socio-emotional needs (e.g., counselor, behavioral specialist), or both.
  • Commitment to teacher professional learning: Many schools want more high quality professional development, time for collaboration, and access to outside expertise.
  • Worry about burnout: Schools that have ambitious goals for student growth know also need teaching to be sustainable over time. Some retention grants will establish new practices or provide tools for teams and their school culture.

The teacher shortage will continue to be a major challenge for Oakland’s public schools. There are myriad and complex reasons for this. As a city, we must think bigger, bolder, and more creatively about what it takes to get and keep great teachers in our classrooms. We’re putting resources in educators’ hands to implement solutions that schools’ need now, while we collectively work on system-wide changes. We look forward to working with our new cohort of retention grantees and sharing their work as the year progresses.

[1] Learning Policy Institute: Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It, August 2017. Accessed from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-turnover-report.

[2] TNTP, Greenhouse Schools, 2012. Accessed here: https://tntp.org/publications/view/greenhouse-schools-how-schools-can-build-cultures-where-teachers-thrive