The tremendous progress DC’s education system has witnessed over the past 10 years is at risk. The pandemic increased the already heavy burden DC teachers bear, leaving many feeling burned out and looking to depart the field. We know that teachers are the most important school-based factor for student achievement and growth.
National and Local Factors
- The Attrition Crisis
Public schools must hire 300,000 teachers per year just to replace those lost to attrition. Even if every graduate from a selective college became a teacher, it would still not be enough.
- The Teacher Pipeline is Drying Up
The teacher supply line was shrinking even before the pandemic: Traditional teacher prep programs have seen a 22% decline in degrees awarded between 2006 to 2019 and Teach For America hit a 15-year low in cohort size in fall 2021—2,000 corps members, just a third of its 2013 cohort.
- The Profession is Not Attractive to Potential Teachers
Even with renewed efforts to steer promising candidates toward teaching, the profession is not attractive to the next generation. Members of GenZ cite flexibility, voice and autonomy, better pay, and a clear path to leadership as desired career characteristics—characteristics teaching, as currently designed, lacks.
- The Black Tax
The national attrition rate for Black teachers is 22% while the rate for White teachers is 15%. Why? The profession overburdens Black teachers: Black teachers teach in relatively under-resourced schools, find fewer paths to leadership, and are pigeonholed into “disciplinary” roles for students of color, particularly in schools where White teachers predominate.
- The Pandemic Toll on DC Educators
The nation’s crisis is DC’s crisis: teacher resignations in 2022 were 52% higher than in the years 2019-2021.
A Call for Redesign
Predominantly, school is structured the same way it has been for decades: One teacher is wholly responsible for one classroom comprising 20 to 30 students. However, teacher responsibility has increased—there are more rigorous learning standards, heightened social-emotional needs of typical PK-12 students, and obligations to cover lunch, recess, and more. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem as teachers have had to face an outsized amount of health and safety concerns while delivering instruction through brand new platforms. However, despite these rising expectations and additional duties, we haven’t changed how teacher work is fundamentally organized.
Unless DC can attract, develop, and retain enough great teachers—particularly in the wake of the pandemic—an excellent, equitable education system will remain out of reach. To turn the tide, DC schools need to consider transforming the teacher role to set teachers—and their students—up for success.
In five years, 50 schools will have taken meaningful steps to transform teaching.
And it’s going to take this scale—1 in 5 of the city’s schools—to bring about the necessary shifts in training and supports to realize the transformation of teaching in DC.
A Way Forward
Today’s teachers are isolated, under-respected, overburdened, and mired in a rigid system ruled by the bell. School leaders can pull school system levers—hiring, curriculum, schedules, technology, and use of space, etc.—to create teaching roles that are more attractive and sustainable for teachers and bring greater success for students.
Following rigorous research, a canvas of alternative models, and extensive conversations with practitioners in the field, we identified four design principles that address four common pain points as experienced by teachers:
With Shared Responsibility, integrated teams of teachers, staff, and (potentially) community members work together to meet educational and developmental needs of groups of students.
Schools invest Trust in teachers as professionals, heeding their voice and providing them with meaningful opportunities to influence and shape the core functions of school. The wisdom and perspective of BIPOC teachers are given due weight.
JACK OF ALL TRADES→SPECIALIZATION
With Specialization, teachers move from being jacks of all trades to taking on specific roles in supporting student learning and growth.
RULED BY THE BELL→WORK FLEXIBILITY
By focusing on impactful activities and employing technology, teachers can gain more Flexibility in how they use time.
CityBridge knows DC schools cannot go through the arduous process of redesign alone. We commit to coordinate and fund 50 school-level design projects to transform teaching over the next five years. CityBridge will add value to this initiative in a number of ways:
We will build and regularly convene an advisory group of experts from relevant groups with differing perspectives to guide this work from concept to planning to execution.
We will coordinate a stable of technical assistance providers (e.g., Next Education Workforce Initiative at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University; Teacher-Powered Schools; Opportunity Culture) that bring expertise in such areas as change management, advancements in ed tech, and project implementation to the schools’ pilot design work.
Equitable Design Expertise
At the start of a planning year, Design Teams, composed of central office officials and school-based personnel, will participate in a sequence of intensive workshops to deepen their understanding of their unique contextual challenge. This work will include examining the enabling and constraining conditions in order to identify a vetted technical assistance provider to co-plan their pilot.
Infrastructure and Capital
CityBridge will make grants to schools to support their participation in the design phase, cover the costs of technical assistance providers, and support implementation of school-based pilots. These grants will be a major offset to the real and opportunity costs that might cause schools to hesitate with participating, allowing their budget resources to be focused on managing changes that result from their design and pilot.
If we start this work now, DC can lead the nation in transforming teaching at-scale.
To learn more about CityBridge’s Transforming Teaching Portfolio, contact us.