TEACHER RAISE: Why better pay won’t solve WCCUSD’s retention woes at low-performing schools

As it negotiates a sizable teacher raise, the district must ensure that teacher retention leads to measurable student achievement at its lowest-performing schools

In our district’s effort to improve teacher retention, one thing is clear: WCCUSD teachers need a sizeable raise.

A new agreement between WCCUSD and the United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) bargaining team will, if ratified by union members,* increase teacher salaries by 5% effective March 1st. Continuing negotiations seem poised to raise teacher pay by as much as 15% by 2020.

While Education Matters supports a salary increase that fits within a structurally balanced budget, we believe this effort must tie directly to improving student achievement. A pay raise, while necessary, will not by itself do enough to reduce teacher turnover at our highest-need schools where chronic turnover disproportionately impacts the academic achievement of our lowest-performing students.

BEYOND PAYCHECKS: RETENTION REQUIRES SUPPORTIVE SCHOOL CULTURE

Earlier this year, the district and UTR commissioned a study that asked 40 departing teachers why they opted out of WCCUSD schools.

According to the Teacher Retention Initiative (TRI), teachers cited low pay as the primary factor in their decision to take teaching jobs elsewhere. Of those surveyed, 69% of teachers indicated that better compensation attracted them to nearby districts. According to the TRI study, WCCUSD teachers typically earn about $10,000 less than the statewide average, and roughly $7,500 less per year on average than those at the “nearest higher-paid comparable district.”

But pay wasn’t the only reason teachers chose to abandon WCC classrooms. 54% of the teachers cited “lack of administrator support” and an unfavorable “school culture and climate” as key reasons why they chose to seek employment elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Without dedicated instructional leadership, trauma-informed training for behavior interventions, and more time for collaboration, the TRI claims, “no amount of compensation” may be sufficient to keep teachers in the district.

TEACHER TURNOVER DISPROPORTIONATELY HARMS OUR HIGHEST-NEED STUDENTS

A clear pattern emerges when we examine teacher retention and student academic achievement data in our district: Where teacher turnover is at its highest, academic achievement declines.

Of the ten schools in the Kennedy family, WCCUSD’s lowest-performing family of schools, half show a retention rate below 60% according to district data. Due to high turnover at these schools, 70% of their teachers have three or fewer years of teaching experience, per a 2017 GO Public Schools report.

The five Kennedy family schools at the bottom in terms of teacher retention also recorded 2017 SBAC scores hovering at or below 10% in both ELA and Math proficiency. In 2017, Coronado Elementary recorded one of the district’s largest combined declines in ELA (-7%) and Math (-5%). Notably, Coronado’s teacher retention rate stands below 55%, the second lowest in the district. By comparison, Wilson Elementary, the only school in the Kennedy family with 100% retention, saw the largest combined SBAC gains (+6%) within the Kennedy family over the prior academic years.   

Within the De Anza family, emerging evidence also shows the impact retention can have on student achievement. Murphy Elementary, which boasts a retention rate of 100%, achieved the district’s highest combined growth in SBAC scores (+17%) in 2017. Valley View, with a teacher retention rate of only 60%, recorded the second largest combined SBAC score decline in the district (-18%).

WE’RE NOT ALONE: STUDY SHOWS WHY NATIONAL DATA MIRRORS LOCAL TREND

WCCUSD data aligns strongly with national research that finds a connection between poor teacher retention and low student academic achievement, and points to a possible cause.

The National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) took a deep look at the impact of high turnover on student academic achievement. The CALDER study revealed that often the most inexperienced educators are the ones responsible for the annual churn of teachers. New teachers leave more frequently than veterans.

But, according to their findings, low-performing or inexperienced teachers were not the key variable driving down student achievement. Instead, the CALDER study concludes, the disruption to school culture caused by high turnover degrades the quality of teaching and learning and negatively impacts student achievement.

“Where turnover is considered to have a disruptive organizational influence, all members of a school community are vulnerable, including staying teachers and their students. In such disruptive accounts of turnover, even when leaving teachers are equally as effective as those who replace them, turnover can still impact students’ achievement.” – CALDER Study

The study found that even when experienced, high-quality teachers stay at schools with poor retention, they likely suffer from diminished morale, shoulder additional responsibilities for onboarding new teacher hires, and face mounting challenges in maintaining long-term growth plans in their departments.

As a result, teachers and leaders who remain at schools with poor retention are forced to continuously restart the challenging and costly work of building a school community that can carry forward a culture of growth and success year over year. Students in these same schools — who suffer from the same disruptive impact — are the least likely to see significant academic growth.

Even more than teacher inexperience, it is this disruptive effect that plagues WCCUSD’s lowest-performing schools, and it is this burden the district’s retention effort should address at these schools in particular.

NEGOTIATING FOR RETENTION TO DRIVE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

Our teachers need more than a raise in order to stay in WCCUSD classrooms, and we must strengthen teacher retention if we are to improve student academic achievement in our lowest-performing schools. Our commitment to equity demands we look beyond compensation and deeply at culture and climate if we seek to remedy this persistent imbalance.

Above: WCCUSD Board Trustee Mister Phillips questions UTR President Demetrio Gonzalez during a study session on teacher recruitment and retention. Top: Gonzalez responds to questions from the board. 

As we get closer to solidifying a watershed 15% pay increase, the district must now ensure that data-informed retention measures aligned with the TRI and the CALDER study become cornerstones of its current negotiations with UTR. Only an agreement that honors these recommendations will sufficiently drive both retention and improved student academic achievement at our most impacted schools.

Education Matters supports a raise that fits within a structurally balanced budget and is specifically designed to address systemic issues that drive chronic teacher turnover at underperforming WCC schools. We urge WCCUSD and UTR to embrace these negotiations as a pivotal opportunity to do not just what is necessary to increase teacher salaries, but what will ultimately drive long-term teacher retention that improves student achievement in our district’s highest-need schools.

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*Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the UTR and the district had reached an agreement to raise teacher pay by 5%. While the UTR bargaining team did reach a Tentative Agreement with district negotiators, the UTR membership has not yet voted to accept the terms, which were approved by the WCCUSD board on February 28.


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