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CREATING WHAT’S NEXT: New NCTAF Report Warns of Teacher Retirement Wave About to Hit America’s Schools, Calls for Change to Traditional Staffing Model

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“First time teachers have been leaving the classroom in record numbers.”

Over the next decade, the United States stands to lose half of its teachers to retirement. Exacerbating this loss is the fact that over one third of the nation’s new teachers leave the profession within three years. So says Learning Teams: Creating What’s Next, a new report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF). To help prevent these losses, the report argues for the development and adoption of a new approach to teacher development that mobilizes learning teams comprised of new teachers, teacher mentors, and teacher retirees.

“First time teachers have been leaving the classroom in record numbers,” said Tom Carroll, NCTAF president and author of the report. “And now we are about to be hit by a massive wave of retirements. We need to face facts and recognize that the supply of teachers is collapsing at both ends.”

According to the report, over 50 percent of the nation’s teachers and principals are Baby Boomers and nearing retirement age. Specifically, it finds that more than half of the teachers are over age fifty in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. While every state is facing an aging teacher workforce, the trend is most severe in West Virginia, where more than two-thirds of all teachers are age fifty or older.

States with the Highest Percentage of Public School Teachers Age Fifty or Older

State  Percentage of Teachers Age Fifty or Older
 West Virginia  68%
 Maine  56%
 Vermont  55%
 Montana  55%
 Indiana  54%
 North Dakota  54%
 New Mexico  54%

The upcoming retirements of Baby Boomers are only half of the problem. According to the report, over one third of the nation’s new teachers leave the profession within three years. It notes that high turnover of new teachers is an especially large problem in high-poverty schools. “A massive amount of their scarce capital—both human and financial—is consumed by the constant process of hiring and replacing beginning teachers, who leave before they have mastered the ability to collaborate with their colleagues to create a successful learning culture for their students,” it reads.

Because of this high turnover among new teachers, the report argues that the nation cannot recruit its way out of this problem. Even if states are able to lure new teachers to their schools, they will simply drain these teachers from neighboring states. “It is unlikely that any state or school district can sustain a quality teaching workforce during the next decade if they allow these waves of teacher retirements and attrition to roll over their schools,” the report reads. “The retirement tsunami won’t stop at state borders.” It adds that no recruitment strategy can capture and distribute the wisdom and collective knowledge of successful dedicated veteran teachers.

Instead, NCTAF argues that the nation needs to move beyond the notion that the stand-alone teacher can do everything and move toward collaborative learning teams composed of veteran and beginning teachers trained to share their expertise and experience with each other. “Through learning teams, we can pass on the knowledge and expertise of successful effective veteran teachers, keep them engaged in education, and enlist their support for new teachers and in transforming their schools into genuine learning organizations,” the report reads.

Carefully deploying selected veteran educators as learning team leaders can also build the strong professional learning communities that have been proven to reduce attrition rates among beginning teachers. “It is time to change the conditions that make [hard-to-staff] schools so hard to staff in the first place,” it reads. “In every story about high-performing schools that are bucking the odds to improve student achievement, a strong collaborative teaching culture is at the heart of the effort.”

Such a redesigned teacher workforce would also be attractive to veteran teachers. According to a NCTAF survey, 70 percent of teachers nearing retirement would be interested in staying if they were able to work in new education roles in “phased or flexible retirement.” Additionally, 62 percent would consider working in a different capacity in the field of education post-retirement because they “want to stay active and productive, and continue to help students.”

The report also calls for a revamping of pay systems so that length of service and years of education are not the only basis for pay increases. Instead, it argues that salaries and incentives need to be competitive in the current job market and that teachers and principals should be rewarded for teamwork that improves school performance and student achievement. It adds that states and districts need to reexamine pension provisions that push teachers in their fifties out of the workforce.

“The tradition of hiring young teachers in their twenties and expecting them to do essentially the same job for the next thirty years is a thing of the past,” the report reads. “Sustaining teachers’ growth throughout their careers calls for the creation of new roles and opportunities to support intern and apprentice teachers who develop their skills alongside more accomplished educators. These veterans in turn have ample opportunities to take on new learning challenges with the support of Millennial Age teachers who bring new skills, knowledge, and passion to their learning teams.”

The complete report, including NCTAF survey results and a snapshot of state-by-state demographics of the teacher workforce, is available athttp://nctaf.org/CrossGenTeams.htm.

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