Science & Research

Study links school conditions to performance

Professor Matthew Kraft identifies factors affecting student performance, teacher retention

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Organizational factors such as school leadership, academic expectations, teacher relationships and school safety are strongly correlated with high teacher retention rates and improved student performance, according to a study conducted by Assistant Professor of Education and Economics Matthew Kraft.

Kraft identified these factors using survey data from the New York City Department of Education collected from public middle schools between 2008 and 2012. He worked in collaboration with William Marinell, chief of learning and innovation for the Southbridge, Mass. school district, and Darrick Shen-Yee, a graduate student at Harvard.

The study looked at four major factors — leadership, expectations, relationships and safety — and found a correlation between the improvement of these factors and a reduction in teacher turnover.

Though the study identified key factors in reduced teacher turnover, there is no quick fix to the problem, Kraft said. Based on these identified factors, it is important for administrators and leadership teams to work together to develop a shared set of norms, Kraft said. “It’s really about collective action.”

Kraft became interested in education policy while working as a tutor at Stanford University as an undergraduate and later became a teacher in California. “Those experiences as a teacher have really motivated my research and helped to inform my focus on how to promote teacher professional development,” Kraft said. He is also interested in “the role that state, federal and district policies play in shaping the (school) policies that affect teachers as well as school organizations.”

Though Kraft expected school leadership and teacher relationships to be important factors, he was surprised by the strength of the correlation between these factors and teacher retention and student achievement, he said.

William Candell, who now serves as associate director for the New York City Department of Education, said that a lack of safety and strong leadership made teaching difficult during his time as a teacher in Washington, D.C., with Teach For America. Safety was often a concern, he said, citing an incident in which a kindergartener broke a teacher’s toes. School leaders often had little experience and were not well qualified for the job, which led to extremely high rates of teacher turnover, Candell added. “My experience teaching is a textbook example of what happens when an opposite (of strong organizational factors) is true in a school,” he said.

Candell also described some of the other problems that urban schools face, such as overcrowding, a lack of resources and low attendance rates. But he said that finding and retaining quality teachers is the main difficulty public schools currently face, making Kraft’s study all the more important.

Kraft said he plans on continuing his research by looking into different types of teacher professional development, adding that he would like to identify which methods are most successful in assisting and retaining teachers within a school district.

While the study is observational, the wide range of data over many years indicates that these factors are more than correlational to teacher retention, Yee said. Kraft added that these factors are likely relevant to all kindergarten through 12th grade schools and not just middle schools.