PROVIDENCE – A new report released Wednesday by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute offers a mixed analysis of teacher retention within the state-controlled Providence Public School District, where it says while the district’s retention rate is higher than many districts across the U.S., the city is still seeing more teachers leave the district than coming in.
The new report, titled “PPSD Teacher Recruitment and Retention,” is part of the institute’s ongoing research-practice partnership with the district, the R.I. Department of Education and the institute’s Center for the Study of Educators. The report analyzed the district’s staffing allocations and creates a “broad picture” of the teacher hiring process by identifying teachers leaving the district, moving to different roles or going on extended leave.
The new report also comes a month after a Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce education subcommittee – which Annenberg researchers were part of – produced a series of recommendations on how local colleges and PPSD can better work collaboratively to create a teacher workforce pipeline for the district.
The report states that PPSD’s classroom teacher retention rate is 88%, which is on par with many other large urban districts, such as Boston Public Schools. Plus, retention rates for early career teachers have increased and hiring patterns “helped the district diversity” the teacher workforce, the report states.
But, that’s the good news. Bad news is since the 2019-20 school year, more teachers have left PPSD to teach elsewhere in Rhode Island than outside teachers coming to Providence. The report states the district has gone from having about 33 new teachers come to Providence in 2019-20 to about 21 this school year. Additionally, about 25 teachers left PPSD to teach in other districts in Rhode Island in 2019-20. This year, it was 40, the report notes.
According to the report, the district since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and state takeover has experienced increased teacher exit rates. About 50 more classroom teachers are either leaving or retiring from PPSD annually than what it was before 2019, the report states. Also, the report notes an increased trend in teachers retiring or leaving the district, going from 95 such teachers before the takeover to 140 during the 2019-20 school year to 157 during the 2020-21 school year.
As a result, the reported data suggests that PPSD returning to pre-pandemic and takeover retention rates “may not be a realistic goal for the district” since high retirement rates are likely to continue. The report notes that about 1 in 4 teachers in PPSD have more than 25 years of teaching experience.
Plus, PPSD’s applicant pool is too small and too local, according to the report. It notes that PPSD on average receives 13 applications for each of the approximately 200 open positions over the past several years – five come internally and eight are from outside the district – well below the national norm. Nationally, an average teaching position receives 28 applications, the report states.
There are also limited applications coming into PPSD for teaching roles in career and technical education, special education, STEM, science, math, English-language arts and physical education. Only elementary and social studies positions over the last several years attract more than 10 external applications per position, the report states.
The report suggests that any strategy to staff classrooms effectively “also requires efforts to recruit a large, diverse, and well-qualified applicant pool,” an area that PPSD, the report says, has “traditionally struggled.” The report, among other suggestions, recommends the district launch a referral campaign internally and leverage school principals to do additional outreach in order to attract new teachers for PPSD. It also suggests reaching out to certified teachers not currently in the workforce to come work in the district.
“Our findings suggest that solving the district’s staffing challenges and continuing to diversify the teaching workforce will require new and sustained investment throughout the system,” Kate Donohue, Annenberg’s senior manager of research and partnerships and lead author of the report, said in a statement.
PPSD Superintendent Javier Montañez said in a statement the district has already begun process earlier than in years past, as well as “launched a robust recruitment campaign, and is offering a wide-array of incentives to attract and retain top talent with particular focus on high-need areas.”
“As school districts nationwide struggle with staffing in the wake of the pandemic, it is vital that we understand and adapt to this nuanced problem,” Montañez said. “We remain committed to our community’s plan to staff all PPSD classrooms with world-class talent to make Providence the destination for education.”
PPSD spokesperson Nicholas Domings told Providence Business News Wednesday that the district currently offers an array of incentives to recruit and retain teachers. Among them are bonuses up to $10,000 for accepting high-need teaching roles, such as middle school math, high school science and special education.
The district also offers incentives up to $3,000 for teachers and staff who are moving from a state other than Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts, Domings said. He also noted PPSD will pay up to a $1,000 referral bonus to any current employee who refers a permanent teacher or school leader candidate that subsequently gets hired fulltime.
Other retention incentive investments made by PPSD include $4 million in new professional development days and $4 million in helping teacher get their ESL certification, Domings said. However, he did not say what PPSD plans to do to expand its reach for talent since the report noted its talent pool is too small.
(Update: Comment from PPSD spokesperson Nicholas Domings added in 14th, 15th and 16th paragraphs)
James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.
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