Irreplaceable — and underappreciated

Principals don’t try to retain excellent teachers, concludes The Irreplaceables. TNTP analyzed teacher retention in four urban school districts: The top 20 percent of teachers, based on value-added scores, were nearly as likely to leave as the bottom 20 percent.

. . . their principals and district officials treated them basically the same. Two-thirds of the districts’ best teachers weren’t even encouraged to return another year.

Three-quarters of low-performing teachers told TNTP that they plan to stay at the current school; half said they intend to teach for another decade.  The average brand-new teacher would be more effective than these low performers, the report concludes.

Even without merit pay, districts could do much more to retain the best teachers, the report adds.

If principals simply gave their best teachers regular feedback, identified leadership opportunities for them, publicly recognized their accomplishments, and employed other, basic HR tactics, they could significantly reduce the attrition rate.

“The nation’s 50 largest districts lose approximately 10,000 Irreplaceables each year, according to TNTP. Yet the culture of teaching insists that all teachers are the same.

New York City’s master teacher program paid Lori Wheal more “in exchange for spending extra time mentoring my peers, writing curricula and running professional development.” She felt her work was respected. When her middle school lost the funding, she quit teaching, she writes in the New York Post.

. . .  the city needs to hold principals accountable for fixing school cultures that drive top teachers away. This means improving working conditions and creating environments of mutual respect and trust. (And give principals credit on their own performance reviews for retaining great teachers.)

But it also means refusing to turn a blind eye to poor teaching. Struggling teachers deserve support and a reasonable chance to improve. But if they can’t, they shouldn’t stay in the classroom.

Wheal will pursue a career in education policy.

About Joanne


  1. Socialism is destroying this nation. No recognition for doing a good job? We’re all doomed if this doesn’t change… So goes the K-12 education system in a country, so goes the country itself.

  2. “If principals simply gave their best teachers regular feedback, identified leadership opportunities for them, publicly recognized their accomplishments, and employed other, basic HR tactics, they could significantly reduce the attrition rate.”

    Why do these lists of fixes always exclude the one thing that would actually work…improve the working conditions for those teachers by grouping students by ability level and eliminating intentional non-learners and disruptors?

    • Why, because you’re racist for even thinking such a thing!


      • In urban schools where most kids are black or Hispanic, they could be more acceptably academically sorted (politically speaking) than in the leafy suburbs where that would make the upper levels too white/Asian. It still isn’t done, because kids actually learning anything doesn’t seem to be a priority; schools are jobs programs for adults – but I still don’t understand why the unions don’t demand school safety and discipline.

        • If ability sorting was done in the majority-minority schools, it would beg the question why it wasn’t allowed anywhere else.  The “civil rights” / “diversity” apparatus can’t allow such questions to gain legitimacy.

  3. Perhaps the most shocking example of the loss of the “irreplaceables” occurred at Trevista, an elementary school in Colorado. As part of a turn around, the principal fired over half of the teachers. She fired the teachers with the highest value added scores and kept the low achieving teachers.

    This is an extreme example. It is sometimes the case that a principal feels threatened by competent teachers and actually prefers subordinates who are less effective.

  4. My older kids’ deservedly top-rated HS had many outstanding honors/AP teachers (same teacher taught both honors and AP sections) and most were constantly out of step with the admins’ worldview. However, since they had very strong parent support, because most of their AP students had 4s or better on the AP exam, they could just ignore the admins. This was especially true of the math/sci teachers. While my kids’ were there, the school was commonly the only non-magnet to place in the top 10 (or better) in various regional and national competitions. The admins were constantly pushing teachers to let anyone into honors and especially into AP classes, but the teachers held the line on the APs; only those kids who had done well in the prereq would get in. They felt it was unfair to those who had done the work and had the background to let less-prepared kids in – demand was so strong that the classes were easily filled with those from the prereqs. The admins just didn’t have the same interest in serious academics. (and not necessarily in athletics. (One year they required a no-cut policy for all varsity teams – that disaster only lasted 1 year)

  5. Principals don’t try to retain excellent teachers?

    What a shocking revelation! I suppose the fact that there’s nothing in it for the principal has nothing to do with the principal’s indifference so it really is a mystery wrapped in an enigma surrounded by a void.

    The next non-revelation will be that principals are hired with no consideration given to the educational quality of the schools they previously ran.