Seventh grade teacher Nicholas Cordova at Sycamore Junior High School in Anaheim on May 22, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – For the past several months, CalMatters’ K-12 education reporter Joe Hong has been reporting on the exodus of teachers from high-poverty schools, where students are more likely to fall behind grade level in math and reading. Today, CalMatters publishes the third and final installment of “The Teacher Turnover Trap.”

The story examines two ambitious, statewide efforts designed to attract and keep teachers at schools serving poorer communities. The first, community schools, give teachers more power on campuses. The model for school governance gives educators a voice in shaping a school’s budget, curricula and after-school programs:

  • Kyle Weinberg, teachers’ union president at San Diego Unified: “We know that when we increase educator voices in school decisions, that educators are more committed. They’re more committed to working on strengthening what we’re doing as a school, and they’re more likely to stay at that school when they know they have that voice.”

The second initiative is the Golden State Teachers Grant Program, which gives teachers-in-training as much as $20,000 in grants if they commit to working at a high-poverty school for four years after earning their credentials. The state doesn’t yet have a clear picture of whether the program will improve teacher retention at these schools beyond four years. But some early-career teachers are both grateful for the money and eager to work with the students who need the most help: 

  • Samantha Fernandez, a recipient of a Golden State Teachers Grant: “I want to help kids achieve their dreams, no matter what struggles they go through… I want to be the person who can be their support outside their home.”

The story also examines perhaps the simplest proposal for improving teacher retention at schools serving more poor students — higher pay. But because salaries are bargained at the local level and teachers unions oppose paying teachers more to work at certain schools, a statewide policy remains unlikely. But researchers say “differentiated pay” practices could help improve teacher retention and improve student test scores:

  • Barbara Biasi, Yale University economist: “I’m not sure why we make salaries so rigid and so low for the profession that has so much impact.”