Since August 2016, nearly 200 teachers have resigned from their positions in D.C. public schools. The Washington Post is investigating this crisis-in-education and researching its impact on the community.Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Washington Post is delving deeper into what is clearly a crisis in D.C. public schools. Compared to other public school districts, the D.C. system has lost an alarming number of teachers mid-school year. Teachers leaving in the middle of the school year present a number of significant challenges for students and administration. There are around 4,000 teachers in D.C. public schools; between August 2016 and February 2017, 184 teachers had resigned mid-year. By comparison, of the 5,150 teachers in the Baltimore City Public School system, only 145 quit mid-year. In Seattle Public Schools, with about 4,000 teachers, 55 quit mid-year. At Ballou High School in Southeast D.C., more than a quarter of the faculty quit after the school year began in August. Of the 184 DCPS teachers who resigned mid-year, 21 of the 184 resignations occurred at Ballou High School. This is the most significant loss of faculty in the entire system. Ballou High is now in a state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2015; but, the school is lacking the most essential component of all schools: teachers. Many classes at Ballou have been left with long term subs; the Washington Post cited one 11th grade student, Dwight Harris, who said that his algebra teacher quit in January. He said that since then, the classroom is complete chaos. Harris said substitutes instruct students to fill out worksheets, which they answer by Googling the problems. He said he typically will leave the class and go to another class where he can focus and get his work done. Whatever is provoking teachers to leave is having a significant impact on student success, and The Washington Post sought to understand the causes of the resignations.
The Post tracked down Harris' algebra teacher who quit in January; her experience sheds light on this troubling trend.Many teachers acknowledge the negative consequences that leaving mid-year has on students; but, teachers from Ballou High School said a number of factors pushed them to quit despite these consequences. Rowan Langford in the algebra instructor who quit her job at Ballou High in January. Langford, only 22 years old, was a teaching fellow at the school. It was her first teaching job since receiving her bachelor's degree in mathematics. Langford said that she reached out to the administration to ask for help with behavioral problems in her large classes of more than 3o students each. “A lot of [students] felt really discouraged about math and used other methods to lash out," Langford said. "I couldn’t address those problems they were having on my own.” She threatened to quit two months into the year, hoping this would prompt the administration to take the necessary steps. When nothing changed, she quit in January.
Ballou and other schools with low teacher retention are already disadvantaged. Teachers leaving mid-year is another sign that the school system is failing its students. According to The Post's data, out of the 930 students at Ballou, all of them qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because they live below the poverty line. Ballou's graduation rate in the 2015-2016 school year was 57 percent. That is the second-lowest among regular high schools in the DCPS system. In 2016, three percent of Ballou students tested met reading standards on city-wide exams. Almost none met math standards. The current principal, Yetunde Reeves, said that the school and staff seek to address the problem by raising standards for students. In the 2016-2017 school year, every member of the senior class had applied to college. Monica Brokenborough, a music teacher and the school’s union representative, sent a letter this month to the D.C. Council, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson. In the letter, Brokenborough describes students wandering the halls during class time because there is no qualified teacher there to teach them. One graduating senior expressed concern over her preparedness for final exams and the impact of this on college prospects. She wrote that many students feel that they might as well stay home, since there really is no point in attending school when there is no one there to teach. This student speaks to a national trend that often results in larger rates of student drop-outs. While raising standards for students has helped their college prospects, the school system now needs to raise its standards for staff and administrative intervention. After all, the students cannot do it alone. What are your thoughts on this troubling trend in D.C. public schools? Let us know in the comments below.