Teachers aren’t fleeing Providence schools.
The Annenberg Center on the Study of Educators at Brown University took a look at employee retention in the Providence school district and concluded that there has not been an “exodus of teachers”:
Using data up and including the start of the 2021-22 school year, we show that, while retention did fall in Providence more than in neighboring districts, the decline was relatively modest. Given Providence’s high historical retention rate, even in 2021 PPSD retained teachers at rates on par with or higher than other districts across the country. The decline in retention came from a variety of causes, with both teacher exits and teacher retirements increasing. However, retention rates for early career teachers actually increased during the pandemic; greater turnover was concentrated among teachers with more than 25 years of experience.
What continues to be disappointing is the focus of the narrative on the adults employed in the system and the ideology that has infected our governing aristocracy. Even where Annenberg acknowledges that cycling out older teachers isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the stated reason is that it creates the opportunity to hire “a more diverse pool of new teachers, allowing the district to make progress in diversifying its workforce.” It’s hard to miss the failure of everybody involved — from the teachers to the bureaucrats regulating schools to the academics at Brown — to place the critical goal of education front and center.
The story of Providence schools is that a corrupt political environment dominated by unionized teachers changed the system to serve the financial desires of employees and the political machinations of progressive labor organizations as primary goals. A shockingly embarrassing report from Johns Hopkins shamed the state into taking initial steps to repair the worst of the damage, but the shock wasn’t enough to force real change from bureaucrats who also wanted to preserve the existing political situation, so the efforts at reform were doomed to fail in the face of the intransigent union.
At the same time, the government’s response to COVID did impose new challenges on a workforce that is used to muddling along, and some small percentage decided it was time to cash out. However, the compensation packages, lack of accountability, and unmatched job security remain so high (and so well proven by the pandemic) that most teachers continue to think it worthwhile to stick it out.
In short, Providence provides an unavoidable lesson for families in Rhode Island’s capital city, and in any district with a substantially similar structure, which includes all of Rhode Island: get your kids out of government schools. The education system is not set up primarily for their benefit, and our political system is not set up to respond to the actual needs of the people it is supposed to serve.
Featured image by Niamat Ullah on Unsplash.