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One of the most challenging parts of my project on teacher placement, Insert Teacher Here, was analyzing the data on where teachers went. Here’s how we got and crunched the data:

In response to a Public Records Act request, San Diego Unified supplied us a spreadsheet of every teacher transfer from 2004 to 2008, including names, job titles, which schools each teacher left, which schools they went to, and which part of the transfer process they used to move from school to school. It was like Christmas for education data nerds.

It was also, as you can imagine, completely daunting. So we enlisted the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting to help us match the data with school information that we cared about — like poverty levels and test scores. We also brought in data about the number of teachers each year, so that we could calculate the percentage of teachers who left, not just the number who left.

That’s when we ran into a problem. I started phoning schools that seemed to have high exit rates, only to get confusion from principals who said their turnover was nil.

What was going on? While some schools showed big percentages of teachers leaving, they also had shrinking staffs. That meant that while teachers were transferring out, they might not have wanted to leave. When schools lose enrollment, they also lose teachers, who are forced to move elsewhere.

So we compared staffing from year to year to see how many teachers, if any, a school would lose because of shrinking enrollment. We subtracted that number from the total number of teachers who left each year, so that we could discern when schools were losing teachers they didn’t need to lose.

While teachers do sometimes take advantage of dropping enrollment to voluntarily leave schools, we decided it was better to be able to clearly tell when teachers decided to leave than to draw conclusions from numbers that included a lot of other, involuntary teacher movement.

We also had to count the transfers by hand for some schools with unusual situations, such as Mann Middle, which split into three schools and then reconsolidated, so that we didn’t count transfers from one Mann school to another. Kroc Middle, which closed and sent its students elsewhere, is another example.

My buddy and all-around-genius Adam Geitgey helped us map the information, creating this nifty graphic for you to play with. We tried to note any important factors at schools with unusually high rates, such as the fact that Crown Point Elementary is often targeted for closure.

Finally, a note of caution on these numbers: We don’t have data on teacher retirements or teachers who left San Diego Unified entirely. That means that while the numbers show how likely each San Diego Unified schools were to lose their teachers to other schools, they underestimate total turnover.

Any more questions for The People’s Reporter? E-mail me at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.

— EMILY ALPERT

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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