A new report from The New Teacher Project, "Keeping Irreplacables in D.C. Public Schools," takes a look at how Michelle Rhee's controversial IMPACT teacher evaluation program has fared since she left the district in 2010. Under IMPACT, teachers are rated according to a number of measures, including multiple annual classroom observations by administrators, as well as teachers' individual students' academic growth, as measured by district and classroom-level tests. Teachers who agree to forgo certain job security protections, and who rate in the top category, "highly-effective," are eligible for annual bonuses between $2,000 and $25,000, as well as eventual raises in their base pay and promotions to "distinguished" and "expert" teacher status.
There have been some significant changes to IMPACT under Chancellor Kaya Henderson, such as bonuses for effective teachers who agree to teach at the lowest-performing, highest-poverty schools; a renewed focus on holistic measures of teaching excellence, including "commitment to school community;" and fewer classroom observations throughout the year for teachers whose fall observations earn high scores. So is IMPACT working? Are great teachers staying in DC, and are bad teachers being replaced by better ones?
According to TNTP's anlysis, DC retains about the same percentage of its top-fifth-rated teachers–88 percent–as four other, unnamed school districts whose practices the organization examined as a control group. Where DC stood apart was in the percentage of its lowest-performers–55 percent–it laid off, compared to 6-21 percent in the four other districts. Because the average first-year teacher peforms better under IMPACT than the average low-performing veteran, TNTP concludes these high turnover rates are justified, despite the worry that they could depress morale among the teacher corps. (Overall, more experienced teachers are more likely to be highly-rated; about three-quarters of DC's highest-performing teachers under IMPACT have more than three years of experience in the classroom.)
Now for the less encouraging news. Less than half of high-performing DC teachers received positive feedback, public recognition, or additional responsibilites from their principals. These are less than stellar management practices. And highly-rated teachers continue to work disproportionately at schools with fewer poor children. (It is unclear why this is the case: because it is easier to score well on IMPACT if you work in a middle-class school; because many effective teachers avoid high-poverty schools: or some combination of both and other factors.)
The chart below is one of the most sobering in the report. High-performing DC teachers who do choose to leave the district often cite the IMPACT bureaucracy as one reason for doing so. This dovetails with reports that up to 40 percent of DC teachers who earned IMPACT bonuses have rejected them, in part because they are unwilling to lose their seniority protections under a system many see as capricious. On the other hand, as the chart notes, "DCPS rarely loses Irreplacables because of dissatisfaction with their compensation." In most urban districts, pay is a big cause of teacher turnover, since educators can expect raises if they decamp to deep-pocketed suburban schools.
So administrators still have some work to do to improve the professional culture within DCPS schools. And what about kids? This paper did not examine student acheivement, but results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show very modest improvement in DC over the past three years, though the District continues to demonstrate some of the largest race and class-based achievement gaps in the United States. The results of IMPACT over the longterm should be measured not only in teacher retention rates, but also in whether–as the program's proponents have claimed–overhauling teacher evaluation and pay will lead to significant gains for kids, both as measured by test scores and by more holistic factors, such as safety, better student discipline, a broader array of curricular and extracurricular options, and parent satisfaction.