Oakland’s teacher turnover problem

Did you know that 55 percent of new teachers hired by the Oakland school district are out the door within three years? (Nationally the rate is pretty high, too, with half of new teachers quitting within five years.)

Here is a spreadsheet listing the teacher attrition rates, by school, during the 2007-08 year. I sorted them from highest to lowest. Some are phenomenally high.

Wonder why people leave? OUSD did. They surveyed teachers to rate the level of frustration associated with various aspects of their jobs, from central office responsiveness to parent support.

Teachers also shared the factors that might compel them to stay put: less of an after-hours workload; more preparation time, and better communication and response from the central office.

Students, you’re up there too. If you want your teacher to stick around, bring them an apple or something.

One of the sections of the report that caught my eye was on page 29:

In our elementary school cluster there are clear relationships between experienced teacher rates and either low poverty rates or high performance. In our middle and high school clusters, the relationship between experienced teacher rates and poverty rates is much harder to ascertain because almost all of the schools are high poverty. There also doesn’t appear to be a clear relationship to academic performance either.

The report is brimming with data and interesting tidbits of information; I just scratched the surface. You can see it for yourself, here.

Alex Gronke wrote about the topic this week in The Oakbook. You can see his piece, “OUSD’s War on Attrition,” here.

image from oddsock’s photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    Now how does this compare to a real school district like Piedmont Unified?

    New Teachers probably want to actually teach. When they find out the schools are not schools, but rather failure factories – the teachers who really are teachers can be expected to leave and find a real school to work in.

    So I continue to say that if OUSD and districts like it would segregate their students into schools and campuses from a range of quality such as “Lowell High in SF” type of campus to a locked ghetto jail school – with various stops in between – staff could be found who would settle into each type of “school” and there would be no confusion between would-be teachers and would-be students about what they signed up for.

  • Harold

    could you get more cynical? I teach in an OUSD High School, and i am very happy. I plan on retiring from my site and i am in my late 30’s!

  • BJ

    Now most of those new teachers end up going where?! To neighboring districts where better pay and more support are more evident. OUSD, as I recalled, is near the bottom!

  • Nextset

    Harold – good for you, can you give us more info about your working conditions? If things are fine… we need to hear that.

    Otherwise we are only left with stats to match the perception that OUSD is a high turnover and burnout district. Is this not true??

  • Katy Murphy

    The district average is important, but if you look at the spreadsheet embedded in the above post, you’ll see a wide variation of teacher attrition, by school.

    Note: Looking more closely at the list, I think data might be missing for some of the schools with a “0” turnover rate. Alternative Learning Community, for example, lost a number of teachers last year year.

  • Ms. T

    I think the data actually makes the schools seem more stable than they are. (At least, that’s the case with my school) The majority of the teachers at my campus have been teaching 1-3 years. Most Oakland teachers don’t leave because of the students; they stay because of the students. They leave because of lack of support from administrators, the bureaucracy that is OUSD, and the fact that they can make 20K more by switching districts and there is no foreseeable raise in the near future.

  • oakteach

    Apparently a “real school district” is one that is majority white, affluent, and entrenched in social reproduction. Pick up the central office, facilities, and staff of Piedmont and stick them in Oakland and you’ll have the same result. And vice versa. And NOT because of the students, but because pay is lower, teachers are not properly trained to bridge cultural disconnects, and societal expectations. Segregation of “high achieving” students into magnet schools is not education, its a class based sorting ritual that is already well in play through private schools and exclusive communities like Piedmont. If the goal of schooling is to reaffirm your social class, then go for it. But if you truly think education has the potential to be a democratic system then sorting is not a solution.

  • Nextset

    Oakteach: The difference is not just the Whiteness. It’s the Respect for Authority, the deportment, the discipline, and the control the teachers have over the class. That’s what I want for the largely black and brown OUSD students.

    Reading and Writing comes after deportment. I don’t give a fig about your cultural disconnects. I want OUSD graduates to have a shot at Military, College and Jobs. I am worried (convinced?) that this school district cranks out unsocialized and undisciplined teens to fail in our Brave New World. Teens who can’t join the service, can’t get a job and can’t/won’t get even vocational training much less college training. Teens who can’t even do well at a life of crime.

    I don’t care how black they are – we can teach/train OUSD kids to respect authority and to find something in themselves to make a good living in this society, not to just eke out an existance. And we can do this with everybody watching also. This is what Piedmont is doing and maybe you think it’s easy to corral white students with more money than the teachers and make them do as their told. We need to ask a Piedmont Teacher about that. I think their schools are ready, willing and able to discipline their kids and their families also, but OUSD wants everybody to be happy, feel good about themselves, and all that rot.

    It comes down to expectations for the students and philosophy about authority and life. I don’t believe in letting students think they are the center of anything – but keeping them pointed firmly to the future where at some time later, if they do well, they will later be able to do what they want. Not now.

    I think OUSD and most urban schools want them pacified right now. And that’s what we have. A lot of students who think they are just great. With bad bad scores and stats compared to state and national averages.

    But I’m just one person and I could be completely off the mark. Maybe I just need lots more good news about how great the OUSD program and graduates do compared to state and national averages.

  • Nextset

    Oh, and Oakteach, The Piedmont kids and their families are often just one divorce away from renting a house near Skyline or worse. And they know it. They feel the heat of this economy and the meltdown of the USA more than OUSD kids do I think. Is this what keeps them from MFing the teachers if they have a bad day? Or the certainty of discipline?

    Things are rough all over and maybe Piedmont kids have farther to fall if they mess up. I submit that their teacher turnover – as well as Orinda’s and the similar districts – are better because the district creates a supportive work environment for staff. But I don’t work there so I could be wrong about this.

    I call for a tiered school system at OUSD so that OUSD staff can work in more stable/better conditions also.

  • Sharon

    I call for more money for teachers.

    Here is a teacher salary schedule comparison for neighboring school districts (only 2006-07 figures are currently available from Ed-Data). If you know additional information that explains the difference (such as the level of benefits), please add it to this conversation.

    The sequence is as follows:
    Lowest Offered/Highest Offered/Average Paid

    Berkeley $35,842 / $74,502 / $60,004
    San Lorenzo $36,112 / $86,962 / $63,395
    Emery $37,252 / $71,183 / $59,201
    San Francisco $38,616 / $76,483 / $58,151
    Oakland $38,778 / $69,714 / $53,869
    State average $38,891 / $78,167 / $63,323
    Alameda $39,871 / $76,028 / $61,018
    Albany $41,517 / $81,507 / $62,270
    Castro Valley $42,013 / $83,277 / $61,984
    Piedmont $42,116 / $81,937 / $67,402
    San Jose $42,584 / $85,510 / $65,633
    San Leandro $47,925 / $88,406 / $68,989
    Hayward $51,324 / $85,496 / $70,433
    Fremont $52,478 / $95,576 / $72,528

    Please note that OUSD’s top pay is at the very bottom, $4788 less than Berkeley, which is the next to the last.

    As an out-of-state contrast, the Average Teacher Salary for Chicago Public Schools is $74,839.

    In Chicago, the median home cost is $510,400 (vs. $573,800 in Oakland). The cost of living in Chicago is 26.45% higher than US average. The cost of living in Oakland is 40.73% higher than US average.

    Given the pay and the working conditions, do any of you still wonder why OUSD can’t retain its teachers?

  • Sharon

    It looks like figures from 2007-08 are posted at EdData now. They were loaded at the end of December, just after I did my research above.

    Oakland’s low salary is now $39,456, high is $70,934, and average is $54,158. Fremont’s is now up to $54,866, $99,925, and $75,621.

    Yes, additional information about the benefits definitely accounts for some of the difference in my previous post. San Leandro, Hayward, Fremont Unified “have indicated that health and welfare benefit dollars are included in the salary schedule.”

    OUSD pays an annual contribution of $6,373 (single), $12,522 (two-party), and $18,000 (family). If you add the two-party figure into OUSD salaries, our teachers are still making substantially less.

    low salary w/benefits = $51,978
    high salary w/benefits = $83,456,

    Orinda’s high salary when benefits are added is $92,372. Piedmont’s low w/two-party benefits is $53,955. Piedmont’s high is $95,170.

    I believe these are generally correct figures. Which ever way I look at it, OUSD just doesn’t pay enough to inspire most of its teachers to stick around.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for sharing all of that research, Sharon. When I covered Hayward and San Leandro schools, their employees’ health benefits were included in the salary amount.

  • Sharon

    Katy: Is there any way you can get the turnover stats from ten years ago or so?

    Also, EVERYONE should check out a blog called Schools Matter, by Jim Horn. This guy is spot on.

  • Sharon

    Katy: Noticeably missing from your 108-school turnover spreadsheet are OUSD’s charter schools. Thirty-five are currently listed on the district’s website.

    Do OUSD’s charter schools ever subject their turnover rate to our scrutiny, too? Tax payers and parents should be allowed to know the level of staff stability at any of these so-called “public” schools.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Also not listed: OUSD Adult Schools

  • Sara

    I totally agree with Nextset. You are a breath of fresh air. Teachers are afraid to discipline students because they won’t be backed up by their administrations, who are more concerned with placating Mom and Dad, who are the ones who taught their students it is ok to be rude and disruptive. Students should not be getting away with disrupting the classrooms and preventing those who want to learn from learning. Students who can’t act like civilized humans should be given one chance and then be put in a school together where they can all act badly together with those teachers who are incompetent but have tenure.

  • OaklandTeacher1

    I just wanted to point out that you start off by talking about new teachers but the spreadsheet is a reflection of all teachers (including teachers retiring which is a huge issue for OUSD). We have approximately 40% of our teachers in the 51-60 range which will have dramatic effects on our teaching force within the next ten years.

    We have to improve our human resources department (and not outsource it at the cost of close to a million dollars to the New Teacher Project). We need to recruit local teachers who are committed to staying in the area. We have great teachers in Oakland but many are retiring at a faster rate than we can train and retain new teachers. Also, OUSD prepares amazing teachers. We have much more professional development and support resources than the surrounding areas but teachers are prepared and then when they become trained, they move to neighborhood districts.

    As the economy changes, I think we’ll see some changes. We’ll see less attrition as other districts are not doing a lot of hiring. Also, many people will realize that whereas teaching is not a well-paying job, it is a much more stable career choice than other more volatile sectors. We’ll see. These are not easy questions but we must stay committed to the children of Oakland that are vibrant, intelligent, beautiful, creative, and deserving of a great education.

    BTW: NextSet’s comment “I don’t care how black they are” (and I’m sure this was not his intention or at least I hope it wasn’t) is indicative of the devaluing of all things African that is part of the cultural insensitivity that is a huge problem in our schools especially as our teaching force becomes less and less diverse (because of the change in recruiting efforts over the last five years). This is what Reverend Lowery made reference to at the inaugural benediction. Our children shouldn’t be getting the message that the blacker you are, the more negative you embody. I just want us to be very careful with our language.

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, OaklandTeacher1 raises an interesting and important point. In tandem, I wonder what those two phenomena — the large number of teachers heading into retirement and the high turnover among new hires — will mean for schools 10 years from now.

  • Caroline

    I’m curious about the teacher turnover at Oakland’s charter schools too.

    This commentary (link below) by a KIPP insider indicates that teacher turnover is a big problem at San Francisco’s KIPP SF Bay Academy, which is a far higher-functioning school by every visible gauge than Oakland’s KIPP school. And except for the eyebrow-raisingly murky (IMHO) American Indian and Oakland Charter schools, KIPP is the most-hailed charter around. If it’s having this problem, what about the run-of-the-mill charters?


  • John

    Oakteach: The following is a quote from a 12/15/08 NY Times article regarding the proposed integration of a public funded school I’d like you to try to read and think about (article link at bottom):

    “…an outpouring of opposition. Alumni and faculty members of the black universities sent letters of protest to the governor, and Ruby Sales, the founder of Spirit House Project, a social justice organization, drafted a petition to save the black schools.

    This (petitioned) proposal would continue a long history of white officials implementing an economic plan that disintegrates institutions in the black community,” Ms. Sales said. “Black educational history has been decimated under these types of desegregation plans.”

    Apparently some Afro Americans believe that a “real school” is one that is exclusively black and entrenched in its own brand of “social reproduction.”

    Could it be that some black schools don’t want to properly train their teachers to “bridge cultural disconnects, and societal expectations” as evidenced by the above shunning example?

    Hey, da ya think it could be the goal of this public school of ‘higher learning’ to reaffirm a societal ethnic class by segregating itself at public expense?

    I guess some black folk, not Martin Luther King, consider public school racial “sorting” to be the best final “solution?” But I guess this is to be expected (even respected) in a public education system where self segregation at public expense is permitted for some ethnic groups, but not for (at least) one.

    It’s great to be living in ‘white is (also) beautiful’ Orinda, even if what’s good for the black goose isn’t good for the white gander’ in our open minded tolerant society of racially diverse hypocrites?

    Aritcle Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/us/15georgia.html?_r=1&sq=State%20Senator%20Seth%20Harp%20&st=cse&adxnnl=1&scp=1&adxnnlx=1229454771-HWLtyik5MyU8Uk3XnRkv8Q

  • Nextset

    Oakland Teacher 1: Glad you got the reference when I said “I don’t care how black they are…”

    And I don’t. Being black is excuse number one nowadays. It didn’t used to be. There was a time when you have to work harder and that was understood – to break into mainstream and stay there (as in first black such and such).

    Nowadays being black is an excuse for failure.

    And it would be best is OUSD got in the black kids’ faces early and often and told them how they are going to act, dress, speak, and perform in those schools.

    So maybe they too would have a shot at the better things in life – and could pass into mainstream (dare I say “white”?) society. Actually mainstream is a combination of Jewish/Asian/Irish/Hispanic/White culture depending on whether you want to work Wall Street, Civil Service or Wall-Mart. Either way “mainstream” isn’t “black”.

    As things go now our black kids are taught to speak in dialect – that really keeps them down – and carefully not taught anything from table manners to traffic laws at our public schools. Then they are dumped into the city at 18 without a diploma – (can’t get that with no discipline) so they can feed into the prison/welfare -industrial complex. We should be doing better.

    I do choose my words and I do so to make my point.

  • ProStudent


    Are you going to allow this derogatory comment from NextSet?

  • ProStudent


    Part of me knows that you’re just doing this for attention and I shouldn’t even bother responding to you but the other part of me can’t let this slide without responding because it’s so inaccurate and offensive . . .

    I understand that you believe that all black children should be taught (in that old school way) “you need to work ten times harder than the white kids because nothing will be handed to you and life ain’t no crystal stair.” I get that . . . I really do. That’s the way I was taught and that’s what I teach my sons (I hate that I have to but . . . ). On the other hand, you seem to have a very narrow view of what is happening in schools and what is best for children.

    What I hear you saying (with your comment on how black they are and “white society”) is what Reverend Lowery referenced in his inaugural benediction: If you’re black get back; if you’re white, you’re right. We’re trying to move away from that and to affirm human beings whatever their color is.

    Mainstream America is very black actually: jazz, rock and roll, hip-hop, Obama, P. Diddy, Michael Jordan. Corporate execs quote rappers and rappers wear ascots. In many “mainstream” events, it is not uncommon to hear “you go girl” and good luck going a day without seeing Barack and Michelle’s face on a t-shirt, bumper sticker, poster, magazine cover. Mainstream is about as black as it can get if you ask me and it’s nothing new. What about your concerns are “blackness” and what about your concerns have to do with class? Does Michelle Obama’s black dialect offend you? What about Oprah Winfrey’s?

    Do you really feel that school is the place to be taught table manners and traffic laws? When are we going to have time for reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic (and maybe some music and science).

    We should be doing better. We should fund schools better. We should recruit and train teachers better. More parents and community members should be involved in the schools. Teachers should be allowed to meet the individual needs of students instead of having to follow a scripted curriculum that teaches to an arbitrary test instead of to a creative, critical inquisitive mind. School should be a place where all students are affirmed not just students who sit can sit still and be quiet for 7 hours a day. Students should have access to a meaningful curriculum that exposes them to diverse ways of “being”: talking, dancing, writing, singing.

    John: Black colleges are a great success models. Black colleges only have 16% of the African-American college student population, but they produce almost 30% of African-American college graduates . . . Almost 75% of Blacks who go on to earn a Master’s or Doctorate degree were undergrads at Black colleges. Also, check out CIBI schools (Council of Independent Black Institutions). They don’t receive a lot of publicity but there are some incredible schools around the country educating Black children–not all schools are missing the mark. We lost something with Brown vs. Board of Education–primarily we lost some great black teachers and their commitment to the children and the community in which they were teaching.

  • Nextset

    ProStudent: You amuse me with your appeal to Katy to silence speech you don’t like. Censorship of political thought is a hallmark of Left Wing thinking and it is frequently taught in Leftist Education Circles.

    Guess What? It doesn’t work in real life. You can’t effectively stop people from communicating among themselves about what is going on. Maybe you can stop them from communicating with you.

    I haven’t noticed you around previously so I don’t know if you are college aged or old enough to have some memories prior to President Johnson’s “Great Society”. Please let us know. I do have those memories and I don’t accept the status quo as being acceptable for blacks at all. I think the urban schools are merely pacifying black students and black families while their opportunities fade away. So I blog. If it annoys leftists in general – good.

    As far as the black colleges – got news for you, they are on the way our. There numbers (scores) are not good and they can’t sell their products anymore as well as they used to in the ’60s and ’70s. And people aren’t as interested in paying for segregated finishing schools for blacks. And another thing – the black colleges of the 1950’s and 1960s were authoritarian and imposed rather unpleasant discipline – or at least the family who taught and went to those schools tell me.

    I’d like the black kids in the East Bay to have some of the benefit of such schooling. They would wear better for it.

    Students do not need any lessons on the benefit of diversity. They do not need to be taught self esteem – quite the opposite, they need to be taken down a peg until they’ve earned some of it. Secondary education is to prepare the students for military, work, or high education. That means respect for authority, language, math, research and technical skills, and a good grasp of Civics, Science and history need to be taught to those who have the ability and interest to absorb all this. Many don’t. Too bad, So Sad, but many students have limited ability to absorb a complete slate of high school subjects. For the limited ability students appropriate survey courses and technical courses need to be put together so they have the best chance at other than a higher education – that is military and vocational careers. One size doesn’t fit all.

    Political indoctrination – so dear to the lefties – doesn’t feed a family or keep a child out of a premature grave.

    From the scores I read about and the people I see we aren’t even teaching basic Civics, reading and Writing to urban blacks. They are pretty happy though. No worry beads in sight. And that’s the problem. too much Pacification and not enough Education.

  • cranky teacher

    This thread is a good example of why public schools, even suburban ones, generally suck: Nobody really agrees on their purpose.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: At least talking about the public schools – publicly – airs our differences. Maybe my problem is that I see a purpose of public schooling to socialize the next generation of citizens, to help them fit into society so they can make a living outside of whatever it is Mommy and Daddy do.

    I believe the purpose of public schools is written and generally well known. The problem I see is that the public schools have been taken over by people who don’t want the public school students to do as well.

    If you are grooming people to be important (or just first among equals), it shows. If you are not, that shows also. I have seen it done both ways.

    And I’ve never known a credible teacher use the term “generally suck”, least of all in writing.