Uncommon Schools board aims to retain teachers and raise college graduation rates

On Feb. 6 the Uncommon Schools network’s board of directors examined graduates’ college completion rates and set out to boost teacher retention rates across the network’s schools.

The board met at the Robin Hood Foundation headquarters in Manhattan, where board chair Norman Atkins has been co-executive director for five years.

Uncommon Schools said its college graduation rate is 51% compared to the country’s 8%, 17% and 32% for the bottom three income quartiles respectively, according to Ken Herrera the network’s director of college completion. The goal is to compete with the country’s top income quartile’s college graduation rate of 74%.

Herrera attributed the achievement to better support networks for Uncommon Schools’ alumni and improved use of data to match students with appropriate colleges.

Herrera said the school has also cut down on the number of students who “under-match”: choosing to attend a school that’s significantly less challenging or successful than what they are qualified for.

Herrera said that students who under-match are usually less likely to graduate. At Uncommon Schools, significant under-matching decreased from 9% to 4% between 2013 and 2014, according to Herrera’s figures.

The network achieved this progress by working with individual families to address their financial constraints and lack of knowledge on how to select and apply to the most appropriate college.

“This is where alumni comes in and college counsellors can have an impact,” he said.

The board members also zeroed in on teacher retention, lamenting high teacher turnover rates at a time of increasing competition for talent. (Uncommon Schools did not quickly respond to a request for their retention rates.)

Board members said teachers leave Uncommon Schools for four primary reasons: to move out of state, to continue their education in graduate school, to pursue school leadership opportunities elsewhere, and to find a better “work-life” balance, according to Julie Kennedy, a managing director at Uncommon Schools.

Board member Ian Sacks said he was concerned that Uncommon Schools was becoming a “stopping ground on the resume.” He supported the possibility of providing some sort of “master teacher” certificate that would help “glorify staying in the classroom.”

Aside from those two focal areas, the board discussed expanding to more elementary schools, as opposed to middle schools, to help introduce children to the Uncommon way earlier in their educational path.


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