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WANTED: 'Irreplaceables'

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On July 30, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released a report called "The Irreplaceables," which looks at teachers who are "so successful they are nearly impossible to replace, but who too often vanish from schools as the result of neglect and inattention." The full report is available on TNTP's website. Information below is quoted directly and the sources of the quotes noted.

The topic has stirred controversy in some circles. However, I would recommend that all K-12 talent managers read the paper with an open mind and make your own conclusions on the findings. The report is built on the idea that, "Tolerating poor performance keeps ineffective teachers in the classroom indefinitely, demoralizes outstanding teachers, and allows the entire teaching profession to be defined by mediocrity."

Study Information
"The Irreplaceables" specifically looked at four urban districts that employ approximately 90,000 teachers who educate more than 1.4 million students. The report notes that the free- and reduced-price lunch rate in these districts ranges from 54 percent to as high as 79 percent. TNTP used teacher and principal surveys for reflection as well as growth data from the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years to identify the lowest and highest performers in each district.

Report Findings
Findings from the report include:

• Irreplaceables are all different and do not all "look" the same, they range in teaching style and years of experience. (Full Report, Pg 3)
• On average, teachers work approximately 50 hours a week during the school year. (Full Report, Pg 3)
• The 50 largest districts in the U.S. lose approximately 10,000 "Irreplaceables" every year. (Executive Summary, Pg 3)
• The retention rate of low performers and "Irreplaceables" is similar. (Full Report, Pg 5)
• Forty percent of teachers with more than seven years of experience are less effective at advancing academic progress than the average first-year teachers. (Exec Summary, Pg 3)
• In an average school, when an "Irreplaceable" leaves, only one in six potential replacements will be of like-quality. In a low-performing school, when an "Irreplaceable" leaves, only one in eleven potential replacements will be of like-quality. (Full Report, Pg 4)
• When ineffective teachers leave, they are likely to be replaced by higher performing teachers--even in difficult-to-staff subjects. (Full Report, Pg 9)
• Low performers rarely improve significantly. Even three years later, most perform worse than the average first-year teacher. (Full Report, Pg 11)
• More than 75 percent of "Irreplaceables" said they would have stayed at their current school if their main issues for leaving were addressed. (Full Report, Pg 13)
• About 55 percent of "Irreplaceables" earn lower salaries than the average ineffective teacher. (Full Report, Pg 21)
• Compensation was one of the reasons most frequently cited by "Irreplaceables" for leaving their schools. (Exec Summary, Pg 4)

The Solution?
TNTP provides two main recommendations in the report around retaining "Irreplaceables."

1. Make retention of "Irreplaceables" a top priority.
2. Strengthen the teaching profession through higher expectations.

TNTP also provides superintendents with a five-year road map as well as five things principals can do to keep more "Irreplaceables." The list of principal suggestions includes:

1. Start the school year with great expectations.
2. Recognize excellence publicly and frequently.
3. Treat your "Irreplaceables" like they are irreplaceable.
4. Start having "stay conversations" by Thanksgiving.
5. Hold the line on good teaching.

K-12 Talent Manager Views
As an HR person, none of the findings or recommendations specifically related to retention surprise me. I strongly believe that organizations should be looking at retention and attrition data regularly. I discussed this issue in previous post (Low Attrition: Positive or Negative for an Organization, May 23, 2012), after returning from a learning trip to Singapore. I would suggest to any HR leader to gather some important data first before making any decisions on teacher and principal retention, including:

• % turnover of "accomplished"* new+ teachers
• % turnover of "accomplished" experienced^ teachers
• % turnover of "accomplished" new STEM teachers
• % turnover of "accomplished" experienced STEM teachers
• % turnover of "accomplished" new teachers in hard-to-fill subjects/grades
• % turnover of "accomplished" experienced teachers in hard-to-fill subjects/grades
• % turnover of "accomplished" new teachers in hard-to-staff buildings
• % turnover of "accomplished" experienced teachers in hard-to-staff buildings
• % turnover of "accomplished" teachers in buildings with an "accomplished" administrator
• % turnover of "accomplished" teachers in buildings with an "ineffective" administrator
• All of the above for those with "ineffective" scores
* Note: In this example, educator ratings from high to low are "accomplished" (highest), "proficient", "developing", and "ineffective" (lowest). This is the scoring system Ohio uses and the score is a combination of observations, value-added data, and/or other multiple measures. (For more information on Ohio's system read about the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System.)
+ Note: In this example, a "new" teacher is one who has been in the district in a full-time position for three years or less.
^ Note: In this example, an "experienced" teacher is one who has been in the district in a full-time position four years or more.

After collecting this data and looking at the findings, I would then consider conducting a survey to collect information on teacher and administrator perceptions and satisfaction pertaining to topics such as leadership, trust, safety, benefits, compensation, evaluation, growth opportunities, etc. Combining action data (like turnover) with perception and satisfaction data can be an extremely powerful thing.

We all must remember, the A players (a.k.a. the Irreplaceables) in our organizations ALWAYS have options... whether in other positions, buildings, districts, or industries.

In future posts, I will discuss some next steps for using retention data. If your district is already collecting and using this information, please share your story in the comments section!

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