Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Ariel Johnson and I am the Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates for the 46,000 public charter school students in the district. I am also a proud Ward 5 resident.
We are grateful to the Council and the State Board of Education (SBOE) for drawing attention to teacher and principal recruitment and turnover in our city. We know how important consistency and stability among teachers, administrators, and staff are for both student success and workplace satisfaction. I grew up in a family that made its living in the public school system. My mother will complete her 34th year as an educator in the third largest school district in the country. I will never forget a conversation that I had with her some years ago. Because I did not have access to high quality public education in my own community, I made it my life’s work to engage in such equity work as an adult. My mother was very clear and firm with me. She said, “you can be anything you want to be, but not a teacher.” She felt so underresourced, undervalued, and underrepresented, that she implored me to find some other way to support my community. Oftentimes, in communities of color, we don’t encourage our children to become educators because we know they will be underpaid and devalued, but we are well-equipped to change that narrative.
Lingering and ongoing challenges from the pandemic, including a shortage of support staff and substitute teachers, has put added pressure on teachers. And it’s not just happening in our city. Around the country, exhausted, burned out teachers and principals are leaving the profession entirely. We must do more to support teachers and principals by maximizing classroom supports, providing more competitive salaries and bonuses, reducing administrative burdens, engaging in more meaningful professional development opportunities, and increasing wellness services for educators.
Data Requested Already Being Collected
While we appreciate the Council and SBOE’s work to raise these issues so we can find solutions, respectfully, asking schools to devote more time and effort to another set of burdensome data requirements is not the answer. Our school leaders are spending countless hours and resources to track compliance with ‘No Shots, No School’ when they should be focusing on educating students.
In fact, our schools have for many years been reporting relevant data on teacher attrition and retention to the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE)(1)(2), and we have faith in their efforts to improve data collection and reporting. Lack of data isn’t the problem in recruiting and retaining teachers.
Barriers to Recruiting and Retention
So what is the problem? Our school leaders report that the cost of housing is the number one barrier to recruiting and retaining teachers and principals. That should come as no surprise. With rising costs of living both in the District and the surrounding areas, living and working in the District isn’t feasible for many educators.
Rather than adding another set of reporting requirements, we should be focusing on solutions we know will have an impact on recruiting and retention. Such solutions should include tuition reimbursement and tax incentives to grow the educator pipeline. And in a city that’s becoming more and more difficult to afford housing, considering financial incentives for educators to live in and/or relocate to the District could be a powerful retention and recruitment tool, and on the cutting edge of innovation for retention around the country. For example, as the Mayor and Council continue to consider options to convert unused downtown office space to residential uses, could that plan include requiring a percentage of units be set aside for affordable educator housing? We need these kinds of innovative workforce housing initiatives that will allow teachers to live and work in our community.
Our schools are doing their very best to recruit and retain strong teachers and principals, but we know that we must do more to support educators in this endeavor. As a community, we can choose to hear teachers when they say they want to live comfortably in the city where they teach. They want stability. They want to know that they have the resources to create the conditions for their own families’ future success. The Alliance and the public charter school community is ready to think creatively with you to ensure that all of our teachers feel supported and valued as they do the tough work of ensuring our students’ futures.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.
(1) New Frontiers for Educational Data. Report to the Council of the District of Columbia. Office of the State Superintendent of Education. April 2022.
(2) DC Educator Workforce Report. Office of the State Superintendent of Education. May 2022.