Understanding Teacher Recruitment and Retention in Duval County
New research from the Jacksonville Public Education Fund is shedding light on the challenge of teacher recruitment and retention in local public schools.
Teacher recruitment and retention is a nationwide challenge, and the research shows Duval County is keeping pace with several innovative initiatives to recruit and retain teachers. An analysis of three years of data from Duval County Public Schools showed that Duval County’s teacher retention rate is about 84 percent year-to-year across the entire district, and about 75 percent year-to-year in the average school.
“JPEF believes in the power of teachers to make a positive impact on students,” said JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune. “I hope this research inspires our community to rally around teachers in our high-poverty school communities. I believe we all have a role to play, and JPEF is committed to helping convene our community in a connected, coordinated plan of action.”
Read the full press release here. The full report is available below.
Read the Report
Click below for the PDF, or read below for the responsive version of the report.
Trends across the United States, Florida and Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) indicate that over the last decade, not only are teachers leaving the profession much sooner than in previous years, but there were also fewer teachers entering the profession.1 The Duval Schools teacher retention rate for the district is approximately 84%. However, this study by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund found that at the school level, teacher retention rates are closer to 75%, driven largely by transfers within the district. Each teacher that permanently leaves DCPS costs the district about $11,000 in hiring and training to replace, and for the 2018-19 Academic Year, the cost of all teacher turnover was approximately $12 million.2 This is equivalent to nearly two percent (1.65%) of the DCPS budget for instruction during that fiscal year.3
Beyond financial costs, teacher attrition can create inequities for students most in need of support and exacerbate gaps in opportunity these students already experience. Study findings indicate that teacher attrition does not affect all Duval schools equally. Schools serving larger proportions of students from low-income backgrounds and students of color are more likely to experience teacher turnover. Further, schools with lower school grades according to the state’s accountability system tended to have less experienced teaching staff compared to schools with higher grades. Additionally, the teacher workforce in Duval County Public Schools is less diverse than the student body.
The research study was designed to determine why teachers in Duval County Public Schools were leaving the district and the profession. Specifically, this study examined the impact that (1) teacher experience and preparation, (2) school leadership, (3) student demographics and performance, and (4) school climate and culture have on teacher recruitment and retention. The data set only included data from traditional public schools.
Regression analyses were conducted to understand the relationships between variables for each of the four areas described above, and all statistically significant variables resulting from each analysis were combined into one statistical model. While the final model tested the teacher retention rate for each Duval County school, several of the analyses used length of teacher employment in Duval as the independent variable and a proxy for teacher quality, under the assumption that teacher quality improves with time.
The final statistical model for teacher retention in Duval County indicated that more years of teacher experience, higher levels of school commitment and higher levels of parent influence on school decision-making tended to increase teacher retention for schools.4 The school commitment measure reflects teachers’ responses to a question about how committed they are to their particular school on the 5Essentials Survey, a University of Chicago climate and culture survey.5
Conversely, principal changes and higher proportions of low-income students tended to increase teacher attrition for schools.6 Whether a school experienced a principal change was nearly five times more influential than any other significant factor.
In addition to identifying the factors most relevant to teacher retention and tenure in Duval County Public Schools, this study explored each of the variables included in the regression analyses. This provided context for statistical interpretation, as well as revealed additional trends related to principal, teacher and student demographics and performance. For a full list of variables, see the appendix.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
The most statistically significant finding of this study was the impact that a change in principal can have on teacher retention at a Duval County school. According to previous research, this is because principals often take their top teachers with them in a school transition and other teachers may leave because of the cultural upheaval that comes with a new administration.7 Additional research is needed to explore whether, and to what extent, local principals pull teachers with them when transitioning from one public school to another.
Teachers who were more experienced and demonstrated higher levels of commitment to their schools were more likely to be retained. Teacher retention also improves in schools where parents are partners to teachers and school leaders. These factors are related to the climate and culture of a school as well as the working conditions of teachers.
Past research studies have found that students from low-income backgrounds have greater academic and social-emotional needs, and schools with higher concentrations of low-income students have a harder time retaining teachers.8 Similarly, this study found that the proportion of students eligible for the federal Free-Reduced Lunch (FRL) Program had a significant relationship with teacher retention, teacher tenure and school grades. Teachers in schools with higher proportions of FRL eligible students tend to have a harder time engaging families and may also be asked to provide more supports and services than teachers in low-poverty schools.
The study also examined the racial background of teachers, principals and students. The analysis found clear discrepancies between teacher and student representation in Duval County Public Schools (Figure 1). The percentage of teachers who are White was nearly twice the percentage of students who are White, while nearly half of Duval County students are Black and less than a third of teachers are Black. Principals tended to be more representative of students across the district, with more than half of principals identifying as Black. However, there is room for improvement to ensure that other minority groups are represented as principals, consistent with the proportion of students in public schools.
Why Isn't the Teaching Profession More Diverse?
The teaching profession’s lack of diversity is rooted in public education’s history of segregation and desegregation. Before Brown v. Board of Education, an estimated 35-50 percent of teachers in 17 segregated states were Black. Recent federal data suggests Black teachers make up about 7 percent of the teaching workforce nationwide. During segregation, Black schools were under-resourced, but many Black teachers had higher qualifications than white teachers. When schools were integrated across the country, many Black educators lost their jobs or were placed in working conditions they found unacceptable.1
In Duval County, court-ordered desegregation took place in December 1969, when the superintendent extended winter break by two weeks to integrate public school faculty. The project was called “Operation Smooth Changeover.” At the time, the population of Duval County was approximately 70 percent white and 30 percent Black. The school district implemented a quota system so that the demographics of each school’s faculty matched those of the population county-wide. During this winter break, many of the White teachers going into predominantly Black schools were the least experienced in the district, while most Black teachers who were transferred to predominantly White schools had the most experience. The following year, expulsions rose 3,000 percent, presumably as a result of teacher bias.2
Today, the diversity gap continues in part because there are too few Black educators inspiring students who look like them to go into teaching. The lack of diversity in teaching is a pipeline problem: Black students are underrepresented in undergraduate programs, including in Colleges of Education. For example, the National Council on Teacher Quality recently rated universities in Florida for the diversity of their education students, and many earned an “F,” including the University of North Florida, despite significant efforts to diversify the program.3
1 Will, M. (2019, May 14) 65 Years After ‘Brown v. Board,’ Where Are All the Black Educators? Retrieved from Education Week: https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/65-years-after-brown-v-board-where-are-all-the-black-educators/2019/05
2 Jamison, R. (January 2021) University of North Florida Center for Urban Education and Policy. (S. Garry Garfunkel, interviewer).
3 Program Scores: Program Diversity. (2021) Retrieved from National Council on Teacher Quality: https://www.nctq.org/review/standardScores/Program-Diversity_-FL-
In another equity-related issue, the study found that teacher experience and teacher attrition do not affect all schools equally. Schools serving students from low-income backgrounds and students of color are more likely to experience high teacher turnover and lower levels of teacher experience. In Figure 2, you can see that schools with lower school grades had the lowest average years of teacher experience in 2018, and this pattern was consistent across all three years of the study. Less experienced teachers are more likely to turn over, according to the final statistical analysis in this study. In contrast, schools with higher grades tended to have more instructional staff per student, fewer principal changes and lower proportions of FRL eligibility, all of which have a positive effect on teacher retention.
The average teacher retention rate from year to year was around 75% at the school level, meaning about 25% of teachers leave their school each year. Middle schools in Duval County tended to have the lowest average teacher retention rates, while the other school type — a catchall for specialists and virtual education — retained nearly all teachers over the study period.
While about 25% of teachers leave their schools each year, many of those teachers are not leaving the profession. Rather, they transfer to other public schools in the district. As a result, the district-wide teacher retention rate is 84%, significantly higher than the school-level teacher retention rate. The study examined teacher mobility, and found that elementary schools had the most mobility, in part because they make up the largest number of schools in the district. Most elementary school teachers transfer to other elementary schools, with some moving to the high school level. Middle and combination school teachers tended to transfer to high or elementary schools, while high school teachers remained primarily at the high school level. Additional research is needed to determine whether these patterns are driven by principal changes, by teacher certification and training type, or by salary rates associated with each school type. Teacher mobility from school to school is part of why the district’s overall teacher retention rate is higher than the school-level rate, but teacher mobility is still a challenge because of the school-level disruption it creates.
JPEF’s prior research on teacher retention has shown that compensation is the primary factor for teachers’ decisions to stay or leave the profession.9 Building on that report, this study showed that average wages tended to be consistent with teacher pay scales — increasing with years of experience, education level, and type of instruction provided. In Figure 3, it was evident that school types requiring additional training or working hours (e.g. ESE sites and alternative schools), had the highest average salaries and the highest minimum salaries. In a dramatic policy change that was not reflected in the data for this study, the 2020 state Legislature mandated significant raises for new teachers to bring the starting salary to $47,500 in an effort to recruit more teachers into the profession. In Duval County, following negotiations with the teachers union, the starting salary for new teachers was raised to $45,891. As shown in the chart, the average salary for teachers in Duval County was close to the mandated amount for new teachers, suggesting many teachers with more experience are now being paid about the same as new teachers. Duval County was able to provide slight raises for veteran teachers, but funding did not allow for raises for veteran teachers that were commensurate with the raises for new teachers.11
Many of the trends observed about Duval County Public Schools in this study were consistent with state and national trends, including teacher, student and school characteristics that were found to be the primary contributors to teacher mobility and attrition. Because teachers with more experience are more likely to stay in the district, schools and the school district can prioritize professional learning for teachers and teacher-to-teacher support for less experienced teachers. To encourage teachers to stay in the profession and at their schools, principals can foster a strong school climate and culture that promotes school commitment. In addition to techniques and strategies for building a strong school culture, teachers also need professional learning related to instruction and teaching practices. The average climate and culture survey scores for Duval County indicate that the district is succeeding in support for effective teaching practices, but that there is room for improvement.
Duval County’s school leadership characteristics were also largely consistent with state and national trends. Past research has shown that school leaders are the second most important factor in schools for improving student and school achievement, only after teachers. The findings of this study indicate that principal changes are the most significant factor in predicting teacher retention in Duval County. Consistent school leadership allows the principal to establish the mission, vision and culture for the school; recruit and train teachers and other school staff to implement the mission; and build strong relationships with the families and community surrounding the school. School leaders are also responsible for providing context-appropriate professional learning for teachers, as a way to improve working conditions and increase the likelihood they remain at the school.12 Principals can only do this effectively if they are provided the time and resources to do so — a challenge if attention is diverted to replacing staff.
A Tale of Two Schools: How Principals and Poverty Affect Teacher Retention
Schools in low-income neighborhoods are more likely to experience high teacher turnover due to a number of factors. For example, our statistical model showed that principal changes and poverty (as expressed in the rate of children eligible for free and reduced lunch) have a dramatic impact on teacher retention, especially when they happen simultaneously at the same school. To help illustrate this finding, take the example of two schools in Duval County. School A is an A-rated school serving a more affluent student population than the average DCPS school: for instance, only 31 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch. School B is a D-rated school serving a low-income student population: here, 95 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The JPEF model predicts that teacher retention will be 19 percent lower at School B than at School A due to this difference in student socioeconomic status, as measured by the rate of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. A change in principal can affect teacher retention even further. The JPEF model predicts teacher retention will decrease by 5.6 percent if a principal change occurs. Principal changes are more common at schools with low grades due to accountability and other instability. The combined effects of these two variables means that teacher retention at School B would be about 25 percent lower than at School A. We know from our research that other variables may exacerbate this disparity even further.
The one factor that was consistently significant for school grades, teacher retention, and other analyses in this study, was the proportion of students eligible for the Free-Reduced Lunch program. This signals a higher risk for disparate and inequitable impacts of teacher retention on students with the greatest needs.
Past research on diversity in public schools has shown all students, especially students of color, benefit from diverse teachers and principals. This study found a misalignment of educator and student racial make-up in Duval County Public Schools. Black students represent the largest racial group in public schools at about 45% of all students. Black teachers make up only 29% of all teachers, while White teachers make up about 66% of teachers. Interestingly, the racial make-up of principals in Duval County is more representative of students than the teacher workforce, with about 55% of principals identifying as Black. The lack of Black teachers in Duval County may present challenges to developing school cultures that are representative of students and their families, engaging and building trusting relationships between teachers and families and adequately engaging students in academic effort. Given these trends, it’s important that teachers and school leaders receive equity-focused professional learning and tools on a continuous basis to mitigate the impacts of implicit bias and support all students to achieve their full potential.
Teacher Diversity and Why It Matters
“When you think about the movie Black Panther and Chadwick Boseman, the leading actor, the reason that was such a huge moment is because little black boys were able to look at him and say, ‘I can be a superhero, too.’ I get the same thing from my students. A lot of my male students say, ‘I want to be a teacher just like you.’ And that’s because they see themselves in me.” — Kenneth Ford, Math and Science Teacher at Rufus E. Payne Elementary and Top Five Finalist, 2021 Duval County Teacher of the Year
Researchers have found that teacher diversity benefits all students, but especially students of color. Research has shown students benefit when exposed to a teacher of a similar racial background to their own, but nationally and locally, there are fewer teachers of color than students of color in our public schools. In a rigorous, long-term study using data from North Carolina and Tennessee, a team of researchers found that having a Black teacher for one year in elementary school raised long-term educational attainment for Black male students, especially for those from low-income households. For the most disadvantaged Black males, researchers estimated that exposure to a Black teacher in elementary school reduced high school dropout rates by 39% and raised college-going aspirations.1 In Duval County, teacher and student demographics are mismatched in a pattern consistent with national trends. Here, Black students make up about 45 percent of our student body, while Black teachers make up only 29 percent of the teaching workforce. For Black male teachers, the disparity is even more stark. Duval County Public Schools employed 418 Black male teachers in total between 2016-17 and 2018-17. Proportionally, Black male teachers represented less than 6% (5.75%) of the teachers employed by DCPS during that time. This includes teachers identifying as multiracial, with at least one race indicated as Black or African-American.
1 Gershenson, S & Hart, C. and Lindsay, C. and Papageorge, N., The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10630, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2940620
The amount of teacher and principal mobility in the district has a direct impact on teacher retention and a secondary impact on student achievement. Strategies that can help include effective principal placement, encouraging principals to stay in their schools, and developing succession plans for principals to ensure a smooth transition when a principal change occurs. Florida law governs the type of contracts school boards can issue, in part as a result of implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2011.13 While district-level decisions typically direct principal movement in both duration and frequency, the district must work within the contract parameters set by the state. Currently, contracts for principals and teachers are for one year at a time, which may increase the likelihood of transition within the district when unfavorable working conditions are present. Further, short-term contracts may create perceived flexibility for those looking for a "fall back" career during times of economic distress, and who research has demonstrated are unlikely to make teaching a long-term career.14 Setting expectations that school placements will last multiple years can encourage principals and teachers to collaboratively develop and implement the instructional practices and culture necessary for their students and school to succeed. Longer term contracts may also reduce the urgency to fill teacher vacancies before the start of each school year, allowing principals to focus instead on instructional practices and school improvement. Longer contracts may also increase school commitment and allow for sustained initiatives and professional learning programs, which increase teacher efficacy. Contract reform in Florida would require policy conversations at the state level.
Incentives for teachers to serve in high-poverty or low-performing schools may also increase the teacher stability of those schools. Many teacher recruitment programs (including those in Florida) have focused on pay raises or college scholarships for aspiring teachers who work in these schools. The challenge of compensation-based policies is that they require continuous funding, which is not guaranteed during economic downturns. Alternative strategies include leadership development and mentoring opportunities for teachers to train as leaders. More leadership roles should be available to teachers at schools, rather than in district or school administrator roles, in order to keep teachers in the classroom at their school. Teacher leadership roles that allow teachers to mentor other teachers and develop their models of learning tend to be the most effective.15
Another opportunity, which Duval County Public Schools has already leaned into, is the strategic use of teacher evaluation and survey data. The district has implemented a system to evaluate all teachers each year and provide district-supported professional learning for new teachers prior to the principal being able to release them for poor performance.16 This additional level of support is an early intervention that may provide the resources and training necessary to increase school commitment and average years of teacher experience. Further, the district has focused on the implementation of the 5Essentials survey to ensure quality feedback from teachers, parents and students, which equips principals to develop the strong school climate and culture that is necessary for student success.17
Why Do Teachers Leave High-Poverty Schools? Insights from Research
“Over the past three decades, teacher turnover has increased substantially in U.S. public schools, especially in those serving large portions of low-income students of color. Teachers who choose to leave high-poverty schools serving large numbers of students of color usually transfer to schools serving wealthier, Whiter student populations. The six overarching studies reviewed [in our study] collectively suggest that teachers who leave high-poverty schools are not fleeing their students. Rather, they are fleeing the poor working conditions that make it difficult for them to teach and for their students to learn. This is important because, unlike demographic characteristics of students, working conditions can be addressed.”1 — Nicole S. Simon & Susan Moore Johnson, Columbia University Teachers College 1. Simon, N & Johnson, S. (2015) Teacher Turnover in High-Poverty Schools: What We Know and Can Do. Teachers College Record, v117 n3 2015
Finally, a much longer-term need is to continue to enhance and strengthen the teacher and administrator qualifications and pipeline in DCPS. As previously mentioned, a critical component of the pipeline should be focused on increasing the diversity of teachers and principals. Further, most Duval County educators hold bachelor’s degrees from a relatively small group of colleges and universities within Florida. While this pattern presents an opportunity to increase collaboration between DCPS and these institutions, it can also exacerbate any shortcomings of a program in its preparation of teachers and administrators. It can also create vulnerabilities in the teacher and principal pipeline. For instance, the University of South Florida, which granted a significant amount of bachelor's degrees to Duval County educators, recently announced that it would significantly reduce its College of Education program. This is likely to shrink the pipeline for teachers and increase competition for teachers statewide. Additional competition for teachers will make other work conditions — salary, professional learning, and promotional opportunities — more critical to recruitment and retention efforts.
- Diversification of the principal and teacher workforce – Duval County Public Schools and its teacher preparation program partners must intentionally focus on building a robust pipeline of teachers who are representative of the students they teach, across race, gender and other dimensions of diversity. Creating greater diversity and representation not only increases academic benefits for students but may also inspire more students to pursue teaching careers, which can also help strengthen the teacher pipeline.
- Professional learning for principals and teachers to promote inclusive school climate and culture – Quality professional learning that is focused on the school context is a strategy for retaining principals and teachers, increasing school commitment and improving school climate and culture. Professional learning can also promote student achievement through a focus on equity and providing each student what they need to succeed. District policies encouraging regular and positive interactions between teachers, schools, students and families can also support the development and continuation of positive relationships, as well as continuing to include parents in decision-making.
- School-based leadership opportunities that include appropriate compensation – School-based leadersip opportunities are a proven method of engaging teachers beyond their classroom responsibilities, promoting their growth and retaining them at their school. This may include formal administrative roles (e.g. Dean), content and skill coaching or training positions, and mentorship roles to support new teachers. According to JPEF’s 2013 Patching the Pipeline report, compensation is one of the top reasons teachers report for leaving the profession, eclipsed only by the climate and culture of their school. Therefore, offering teachers compensation while also providing opportunities for them to lead can address several challenges to retaining teachers simultaneously.
Several regression analyses were conducted to understand the relationships between teacher tenure, teacher retention and school grades and a variety of other factors. In this table, the primary analyses are included. The dependent variable is the one being tested or influenced in the analysis, while the independent variables are those doing the influencing. You can see the total number of variables tested in each analysis, with those independent variables found to be statistically significant included in the third column of the table. The variance demonstrates the amount of variation in the dependent variable that is explained by the independent variables. For example, about 36% of the variance in teacher tenure in the district is explained by teacher gender or Asian race identification. The standard error is the amount of error contained in each statistical model. Note also that regression analyses were performed for each of the 5Essentials areas - ambitious instruction, collaborative teachers, effective leader, involved families, supplemental environment, and supplemental (a catchall category for other factors). The climate and culture analyses included in the chart represent the most statistically significant variables from the individual 5Essentials analysis results.
1 McDaniel-Wyatt, A. (2019, October). Teacher Retention In Duval County Public Schools. Jacksonville University Policy Matters Journal.
2 Schultz, V. (2020, January). Duval County Public Schools Human Resources Teacher Retention Fact Finding. (E. Krajewski, & C. Hill, Interviewers).
4 School commitment and parent influence as measured by 5 Essentials survey results
5 University of Chicago Impact. (2019, November). The 5Essentials Framework. Retrieved from https://uchicagoimpact.org/sites/default/files/5eframework_outreach%26marketing%20%281%29.pdf
6 Student socioeconomic status was measured using Free-Reduced Lunch Program eligibility, and teacher-parent trust as measured by 5Essentials survey results
7 Bowes, L. (2020, December 8). Duval County Public Schools, Executive Director of District and School-Based Staffing. (E. Krajewski, Interviewer)
8 Allensworth, E., Mazzeo, C., & Ponisicak, S. (2009). The Schools Teachers Leave: Teacher Mobility in Chicago Public Schools. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research. University of Chicago.
9 Patching the Pipeline. (2013) InBrief. Jacksonville Public Education Fund. Retrieved from https://www.jaxpef.org/media/5371/jpef_issue5spring2013_final_web.pdf
10 Gibson, Travis. January 2021. Despite inequities, vast majority of Duval teachers approve new contract, raises. Retrieved from News4Jax: https://www.news4jax.com/news/local/2021/01/05/despite-inequities-vast-majority-of-duval-teachers-approve-new-contract-raises/.
11 National Association of Elementary School Principal. Leadership Matters. 2013. https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/LeadershipMatters.pdf
12 The Leadership Academy. (2020). Culturally responsive leadership: A framework for school and school system leaders. New York City: The Leadership Academy.
13 Section 1012.33, Florida Statutes
14 Aldeman, C., & Spurrier, A. (2020, November 1). Analysis: Did School System Retirements Spike in 2020? Data from 7 State Pension Plans Show They’ve Actually Decreased. Retrieved from The 74: https://www.the74million.org/article/analysis-did-school-systemretirements-spike-in-2020-data-from-7-state-pension-plans-show-theyve-actuallydecreased/.
15 Poekert, P., Alexandrou, A., & Shannon, D. (2016). How teachers become leaders: an international validated theoretical model of teacher leadership development. Research in Post-Compulsory Education 21:4, 307-329.
16 Bowes, L. (2020, December 8). Duval County Public Schools, Executive Director of District and School-Based Staffing. (E. Krajewski, Interviewer)
18 Ochoa, J. (2020, November 20). USF Changes Course on Closure of Education Programs. Retrieved from WUSF Public Media: https://wusfnews.wusf.usf.edu/education/2020-11-20/usf-changes-course-on-closure-of-education-programs