No fair! Math teacher wins the math challenge

Jack Gerson, a math teacher at Castlemont’s Leadership Prep High School, helpfully took up yesterday afternoon’s challenge about how the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future came up with its $12 million figure. He writes: 

If you’ve downloaded the 16-page policy brief that accompanies their report, look at page 14 (“Appendix: Calculating the National Cost of Teacher Attrition). They’re estimating that 12.5% of teachers leave annually (which for Oakland would be between 325 and 350) and multiply that by $8,750. That come to, ballpark, $3 million. Then they estimate cost per school of $70,000 and multiply that by the number of schools. Oakland now has between 100 and 150 schools, which comes to, again ballpark, $9 million. Add the two estimates together and you get $12 million.

I can’t say whether any of their figures are accurate. I don’t know if it costs Oakland an average of $8,750 / teacher who leaves exclusive of costs to schools, and I don’t know if it costs schools $70,000 per teacher who leaves. But this is how they generated their figures, and it does seem to work out to about $12 million.

Mr. Gerson is right. I got in touch with Ben Shaefer from the National Commission, and he said they included individual school costs in the total $12 million figure. When you add the central office costs (based on 300 teachers leaving) and the $70,000 for each of the district’s 130 schools, it comes to $11.73 million — according to their formula, anyway.

That doesn’t take into account, though, the number of new, small schools in Oakland. A large comprehensive school like Skyline, for example, has a much different staffing picture than each of the small schools at Fremont or Castlemont.

But what do I know? I’m a reporter, (obviously) not a math teacher.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Jack Gerson


    Do the average turnover costs of $8,750 / teacher and $70,000 / school apply to Oakland? Oakland is a hard sell: it has a reputation for being one of the hardest places to teach in the country. Also, costs of flying in and housing interviewees is probably above the national average. The school bureaucracy (oops–I mean, central administration) is, to put it charitably, inefficient–this, too, probably adds to costs.

    Finally: as you know, a very large proportion of vacancies are filled with TFA teachers and OTF and Oakland Teacher Corps interns. Their average preparedness–day 1, year 1–is far less than the average readiness of a graduate from a good ed school. But until Oakland gets its act together–meaning smaller class size, better working conditions (especially safety and classroom discipline, more collaboration time, and [again] smaller average class size), and better wages and benefits–the ed schools will send very few student teachers and very few program graduates our way.

    Really, really finally:
    One of the things you said I supported in this morning’s Trib article was better data systems to track teacher turnover by school. I don’t think I said that. I certainly hope I didn’t. The fact is, teacher turnover per school can be tracked in a vanilla Excel spreadsheet. Not rocket science. With only a few minutes more work, all necessary attributes (name/age/subject or grade/school/years in OUSD/reason for leaving/…) can be tracked and quickly summarized in various ways with an off-the-shelf data base management program that can be picked up for less than $100. What’s really needed is the will to do this, including making sure someone is on top of things–repeatedly reminding HR to get the info to them (this could be added to the list of [ugh!] “best practices”). In short: let’s not pour more money into developing bells and whistles for human resource software systems. Let’s develop sensible solutions, starting with easily implementable and scalable pieces (like the one I suggested for tracking teacher turnover), and let’s put the real money into what’s really needed: more teachers, more librarians, more counselors, more custodians, more clericals, new and clean facilities, school safety, decent food for kids, classroom resources, …

    Jack Gerson

  • kmurphy

    Wow, thanks for all of those thoughts.

    About the story: I was really referring to the strategies to keep teachers at schools and having a better idea of which schools are losing the most teachers (not necessarily through expensive software). Sorry I didn’t make that more clear.

    Also, Laura Moran said she included special ed teachers in the classroom count. Basically, as she explained it, she included all of the teaching positions she needs to fill, which must include retirees. You raise a good point about counselors and psychologists. I wonder if they’re included in these teacher reports.

  • Jim Mordecai

    There are many truths to be told associated with high turnover of the teaching force and
    Jack hits many of them when pointing out that lacking better wages and working conditions Oakland backfills with TFA and interns of short time commitment and a lesser preservice training.

    But, there is most likely a problem that Oakland Administration could improve and that is
    to make sure that the fully trained teachers from University and College teaching
    programs get their applications processed, and a contract offered, in a timely manner.
    Those with the highest qualifications coming out of a teacher training program need to be
    offer a contract without delay to realistically compete with other districts. The fact that
    youth is idealistic and wanting to make a difference plays to Oakland’s advantage but
    youth is often impatient, or needs to know how they’ll pay the rent, and that’s why HR in
    recruiting must be prepared to offer contacts quickly.