The data gurus at OUSD recently released a dashboard focused on teacher retention rates in OUSD. (Side note: I’ve found this announcement page from OUSD Data to be very helpful in keeping track of their newest data releases and news!) I’ve been thinking a lot about teacher retention ever since our Celebrate Oakland Teachers Night (plus all those news reports about California’s dire teacher shortage) – so of course I had to dig deeper!

Question 1: How high (or low) is teacher retention in Oakland public schools?

Answer: Three-year retention ranges from 40% to 70%, varying school and region.

Specifically, middle schools and the schools in the Elevation network (which are the schools that the district is making an intensive effort to improve) have the highest turnover. On average, a student in an OUSD middle school will watch two-thirds of the teachers leave by the time s/he completes 8th grade. Yikes! It raises an important question: How, as a city and a community, can we ensure that our students with the greatest needs get our city’s best educators?

Figure 1. Average teacher retention rate at sites by Network. Courtesy of OUSD.
Schools in the Northwest have higher teacher retention than schools in the East and West – not coincidentally the areas that have higher poverty and crime.
Figure 2. Average teacher retention rate at sites by SRA region. Courtesy of OUSD

A few other things to notice in this data:

  • One-year retention clearly doesn’t tell the whole picture: On an annual basis, teacher retention rates in some regions don’t look so bad (>80%). But, an average three-year site-based retention rate of 54%* district-wide is definitely not good – half of the teachers are different in three years!
  • Retention rates have declined slightly over the past 5 years: In the recent years (’11-12 to ’15-16), teacher retention rate in OUSD has dropped a little more each year from 83% to 79.5%. The drop in retention rates from 2008 to 2011 was almost certainly driven by recession-era reductions in available teaching positions.
Figure 3. Retention of teachers in OUSD from 2006-2016. Courtesy of OUSD

Eagle-eyed folks will notice that this data is limited to district-run schools. Unfortunately, teacher retention data for charter schools isn’t collected centrally or comprehensively. This is a gap I’d love to see addressed moving forward to provide a citywide look at retention!

Question 2: Are teacher retention rates and school quality correlated?

Teachers are the people directly working with our kids every day in the classroom. We often hear that teacher longevity directly impacts the quality of students’ educational experience. As a data nerd, of course I need to ask: What does the data say?

Answer: Yup!

There does seem to be a relationship, with higher teacher retention rates at schools with a higher School Performance Framework (SPF) score. While there is wide variation in Tier 2 and 3 schools, every single school in Tier 4 or 5 has an average retention rate of higher than 70%.

But, here is a big data nerd caution: even though there seems to be a correlation, we don’t know about causation! This may be a “chicken or egg” question: does high teacher turnover drive low student achievement and school culture? Or are working conditions and environment at the school accounting for the correlation between high turnover and high student need? Or, are both school quality and teacher retention symptoms of other causal factors?

A musing: You know what data I’d REALLY like know? Retention not schoolwide or region-wide or district-wide, but retention of our most impactful teachers – i.e. those teachers that are instructional wizards, amazing with family relationships, or really hold down a school culture. I wonder if the new Teacher Growth and Development System (TGDS) would provide data on this…

Questions 3: What can we do about this?

Answer: Glad you asked!

While we know about factors that increase teacher retention from a national perspective (see TNTP’s Greenhouse Schools report), we don’t have enough data locally to really understand the root causes of what’s causing our teachers to leave Oakland classrooms. (Of course I’m biased because I always think data is critical to getting to the answers!) To understand what affects our teachers’ engagement and satisfaction, Educate78’s Teacher Advisory Group is leading a citywide teacher retention survey. The results of this survey will enable us to connect local results with the national patterns that Gallup has seen: i.e. the more engaged a teacher is, the more likely they will stay in their current job.

PLEASE HELP US SHED LIGHT ON THIS TOPIC: ENCOURAGE ALL OAKLAND TEACHERS YOU KNOW TO TAKE THE SURVEY!

(PS: check out here what we did with this data last year! If you’re interested in learning more, keepan eye out for TeachOakland Grant page)

*This an average of the different regions. I recognized that averaging across the regions is not the best approach mathematically since the regions all differ in the number of teachers compared to the pure district-wide average, but the data is not downloadable for me to calculate quickly.

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My name is Carrie Chan, and I’m Educate78’s newest staff member. I joined the organization as an Analyst, and I LOVE data (feel free to call me a data geek). As a former OUSD student, I also care a lot about Oakland public schools. That is why I am so excited about this new blog series, “Crunched!” which will take a data-driven approach to important, relevant questions facing Oakland public schools. Please email me with ideas or requests.

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