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Study: Providence teacher retention isn’t as bad as you think

In this March 7, 2020 file photo, a swing sits empty on a playground outside Achievement First charter school in Providence, R.I.David Goldman/Associated Press

The number of Providence teachers who retired or left the school district jumped from an average of 94 per year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the state takeover to 157 in the current school year, but overall teacher retention has been better than the national average, according to a new study.

Researchers from Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform found that an average of 93 percent of city teachers returned to the district for another school year over the last five years, compared to the national average of 92 percent.

The study found that the overall number of Providence teachers who have left the classroom since last year is higher (288), in part because the district has seen a large spike in educators moving to non-classroom jobs (like instructional coaches) and more teachers are taking leaves of absence.


“The data suggest that teachers who leave tend to have been replaced by a more diverse pool of new teachers, allowing the district to make progress in diversifying its workforce,” the report states. “Going forward, the district can redouble efforts to retain its most effective teachers by creating work environments where teachers can thrive.”

The report does not draw any conclusions about why teachers are changing jobs within the district or leaving the district entirely, but it points out that the pandemic, state takeover, a new collective bargaining agreement all occurred during the same period of time.

The report also notes that “teachers across the country are struggling under the weight of addressing students’ unfinished learning, supporting students’ increased socio-emotional and mental health needs, and dealing with concerns about physical safety in the classroom.” It suggests that pandemic stimulus “can be used to build more supportive professional climates in schools.”

The staffing turnover that has happened “does present some unintended opportunities around teacher recruitment,” the report states. It gives the district a chance to meet its goals to further diversify the workforce.


”Turnover is a necessary pre-condition: if all teachers stayed, there would be no opportunity to increase teacher diversity,” the report states.

One unanswered question is how Providence schools will handle life after the pandemic (and the uptick in federal funding). Before the state takeover, it was an annual occurrence for district officials to complain about needing to close multimillion-dollar shortfalls by slashing spending on student support programs. Large increases in federal funding over the last two years helped the district, but that money will eventually dry up.

This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.