Baltimore's Catch-22

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We know that stable and capable leadership is an essential ingredient in the teacher quality recipe. So an article last week finding that almost three-quarters of Baltimore's principal population have turned over in the past four years certainly caught our attention.

Baltimore is clearly engaged in some serious reforms, resulting in a sort of catch-22:  While system-wide reform naturally results in more staff turnover, the unique problems faced by an urban school district often call for more reform-minded approaches as well as stability and experience in leadership roles across schools. Should Superintendent Andres Alonso be holding the door open and waving good bye, or blocking all exits and begging seasoned administrators to stay? 

That question got us wondering how the principal turnover rate looks in other large urban districts. A recent CALDER study calculated annual principal turnover in districts that included Miami-Dade County, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and New York City, and found rates ranging from 19 to 26 percent. From this perspective, Baltimore's principal turnover rate of 22 percent last year (42 vacancies out of 192 schools) doesn't look too aberrant.

So while Alonso can perhaps find some comfort in knowing this isn't a problem specific to Baltimore, retention strategies for effective principals must be high on any urban superintendent's priority list.