The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America's Urban Schools

July 30, 2012

America’s schools are losing too many of their best teachers.

America’s urban schools are taking a negligent approach to teacher retention; many rarely make a strong effort to keep “Irreplaceables,” teachers so successful at advancing student learning that they are nearly impossible to replace, or usher unsuccessful teachers out. As a result, the best and worst teachers leave urban schools at strikingly similar rates. 

The Irreplaceables spans four urban school districts encompassing 90,000 teachers, 2,100 schools and 1.4 million students to focus on the experiences of exceptional teachers. From the data we analyzed from these districts, we found three main causes for the destructive retention patterns we saw in schools.

Key Findings:

  • Principals make far too little effort to retain Irreplaceables or remove low-performing teachers.
  • Poor school cultures and working conditions drive away great teachers.
  • Policies give principals and district leaders few incentives to change their ways. 

To combat the real retention crisis and create the profession that teachers deserve, we offer two major recommendations for education leaders: make retention of Irreplaceables a top priority, and strengthen the teaching profession with higher expectations.

Additional Resources

Executive Summary and Statements of Support July 30, 2012 > ˅

An executive summary for The Irreplaceables, and statements of support from education leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NYC Public Schools then-Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

Principal Guide: Five Tips for Keeping Irreplaceables July 30, 2012 > ˅

Principals hold significant sway over teachers’ decisions to stay or leave their schools. Here are five steps schools leaders can take to keep great teachers, at little or no cost.

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