Improving Teacher Retention in Chicago Public Schools

Chris Times and Fausto López

This blog post was published as part of the work of the Midwest Comprehensive Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Comprehensive Centers Program, during the cycle which ended on September 30, 2019.

Good news is sometimes hard to find. Nevertheless, educators and students in Chicago are proving that diligence and data-informed decision making can lead to positive changes.

As the third largest school district in the United States, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) serves more than 370,000 students, with more than 78% from low-income families and 18% who are English learners. Within the past decade, CPS, like other school districts nationwide, has struggled with declining enrollment, school closures, and teacher attrition. Despite these challenges, a recent study released by Stanford University shows that “Chicago public school students, on average, learn more from third grade through eighth grade than any other large or moderate-sized district in the country.” This study also discusses promising data such as improvements in students’ National Assessment of Educational Progress scores and rising high school graduation rates.

CPS plans to keep the momentum going and increase learning for its diverse student population by focusing on key factors such as teacher retention. Specifically, CPS is working with a cohort of 53 hard-to-staff Opportunity Schools to provide intensive teacher recruitment, retention, and leadership supports. The Midwest Comprehensive Center (MWCC)—in collaboration with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) and Public Impact—is assisting CPS with implementing a strategic plan to reduce teacher attrition by addressing pertinent teaching conditions in its public schools. According to the TELL Resource Library, teaching conditions include time, teacher leadership, facilities and resources, school leadership, community support and involvement, professional development, managing student conduct, and instructional practices and support.

The first step in understanding the context and barriers to improving retention across the Opportunity Schools was to collaborate with the CPS Talent Office to collect data on teaching conditions at the beginning and end of the 2017–18 school year. Data revealed unmet needs of Opportunity Schools related to teaching and learning in three areas—time, teacher leadership, and school leadership. During day-long meetings of teams from these schools, the MWCC project team also found that schools struggled with school climate, behavior management, and conditions for learning.

Based on the data reviews, MWCC experts collaborated with the CPS Talent Office to design a differentiated support model and identified nine Opportunity Schools to receive a coaching package consisting of a number of services:

  • Access to a webinar on foundational knowledge about teaching conditions
  • A collaborative data interpretation workshop to increase school-level use of data and teacher voice to drive decisions about teaching conditions
  • Quarterly online professional learning sessions for mentors of new teachers to increase mentors’ capacity to support newer teachers and to decrease behavior management concerns
  • Ongoing virtual follow-up sessions with coaches
  • Multiple on-site coaching sessions with the instructional leadership team and/or administrative team on learning conditions (i.e., school climate and behavior management at the school level)

CPS staff and leaders who participated in the differentiated support model have taken an active role in improving teaching conditions in their schools. One such school, Uplift Community High School, is a college preparatory school with 148 students in Grades 9–12. MWCC senior technical assistance consultant Fausto Lopez and other experts worked closely with the Uplift team to provide coaching support to address the priorities in the teaching conditions data. According to Lopez, the school team identified teacher leadership and instructional practices and supports as their priority areas. Then, they worked collaboratively to identify actionable items based on their school data and quick wins that would motivate Uplift staff.

Specifically, the Behavioral Health Team and school leadership at Uplift chose to pursue the CPS Supportive School Certification, which included six professional development sessions for teachers on topics such as calm classroom, social and emotional learning, restorative practices, and multitiered systems of support. In addition, in partnership with Uplift leadership, MWCC hosted a one-day retreat for school staff on a designated school improvement day. At the request of the school’s principal, MWCC experts engaged Uplift staff (including support staff, teachers, administrators, and security personnel) in learning sessions focused on team building, data planning, reflection, mindfulness, and self-care.

CPS teachers and leaders are pleased with the progress so far and look forward to making additional strides in reducing attrition. “Because of the support, resources, and additional capacity that [MWCC] has provided, participating school teams have increased the school-level use of data to drive decisions about teaching and learning conditions,” says Ben Felton, executive director of Teacher Recruitment and Equity Strategy at CPS. He adds, “Schools are developing sustainable practices to improve school climate by expanding distributed leadership and teacher mentor capacity.”

The next steps for this project include ongoing work with the GTL Center to support enhancement of mentoring program quality and development of the CPS professional learning calendar for the 2019–20 school year.