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The Costs Of Teacher Turnover: Are We Really Losing The Best Teachers?

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Over forty educators, policymakers, and other key stakeholders gathered February 26 at the Alliance for Excellent Education offices to attend a briefing on teacher turnover and the costs to schools, districts, teachers, and students. At the event, a new Alliance brief, “What Keeps Good Teachers in the Classroom? Understanding and Reducing Teacher Turnover,” was released and a discussion on it was held with Dr. Tom Carroll, President of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and Dr. Heather Peske, Director of Teacher Quality at The Education Trust.

Jeremy Ayers, a policy and advocacy associate at the Alliance, opened the forum and provided background on the Alliance’s role in teacher quality issues and put forth the main issues with respect to teacher turnover. He stated that those issues include determining the cost of turnover, how bad teacher turnover is, and who the teachers are who are leaving the field.

Sofia Bahena, an Alliance research and policy assistant, presented highlights of the issue brief, which found that most school districts do not have the data resources to accurately describe the costs of teacher turnover, and stressed the importance of identifying the quality of teachers who leave the classroom. Ms. Bahena also differentiated between movers, who stay in the teaching profession but change schools, and leavers, who leave teaching altogether. Each has a similar impact at the school level, as the school must hire and train another teacher to replace the one who has left.

Bahena also noted that high quality teachers have the greatest positive impact on students, yet many of them are leaving their schools and profession, particularly in poorer, lower performing schools. Common wisdom has held that those more likely to leave are the “good” teachers. But recent research has revealed that turnover is more complex than that. While effective teachers, in general, have been found to show lower rates of turnover in challenging schools, effective teachers are still likely to leave the most challenging schools with the highest numbers of low-income and minority students. Critical to retaining teachers is a teacher’s sense of self-efficacy and success with the students. The brief calls for comprehensive induction support to increase teacher success.

Dr. Tom Carroll discussed teacher retention, saying that teachers are not supported adequately and they are not given the conditions in which to succeed. He pointed out that the current hiring system is a legacy from decades past which was based on a captive workforce of young women. The system worked in the past because many women did not have other professional opportunities, but according to Dr. Carroll, it began to fail in the mid-80s as many women pursued other opportunities, and the attrition rate for teachers skyrocketed. The attrition rate is especially high in low-income schools with the most challenging conditions; in many of these, the teacher dropout rate is higher than the student dropout rate. He also noted that many school and district leaders consider high teacher turnover to be normal, but that they are not looking at the costs and consequences. Dr. Carroll said that the cost of teacher turnover varies depending on district size and other characteristics, but the consequences do not. Each teacher who leaves can have a huge impact on the school, and many districts do not have data systems that allow leaders to track and control teacher recruitment and separation costs. Dr. Carroll also stated that districts do not have a clear idea of whether they are losing good teachers or those who should leave the field, and pointed out that the benchmark for turnover should be the highest performing school in the district and the highest performing district in the region.

Dr. Peske referenced analyses by Tennessee’s value-added system, which has tracked effective teachers and found that while effective teachers migrate away from schools with the highest levels of poverty, the least effective teachers concentrate in high poverty schools. “Schools with the highest poverty levels and most minorities become refuges for teachers who we want to turn over,” she stated. Dr. Peske added that there is a “stability gap” in which low-income and minority students, parents, and teachers have to pay the high price of recruiting and inducting new teachers as a result of their high turnover. Furthermore, she emphasized the importance of also addressing the issue of principal turnover and retention, as they are essential to addressing teacher turnover. Dr. Peske also noted that mobility might not always be a bad thing and rather than focus on reducing it, perhaps it would be best to anticipate it and better train teachers to be effective for the time they do teach. She concluded that while induction is important, it is important also to advocate policies that require improved data systems that would answer many questions about turnover.

The forum concluded with remarks from Bethany Little, Vice President of Federal Policy and Advocacy at the Alliance.

The publication of What Keeps Good Teachers in the Classroom? Understanding and Reducing Teacher Turnover was made possible with the generous support of MetLife Foundation.

Event Materials

Event Agenda PDF file PDF
Their FAIR Share: How Texas-Sized Gaps In Teacher Quality Sortchange Low-Income and Minority Students PDF file PDF The Education Trust
Policy Brief: The High Cost of Teacher Turnover PDF file PDF National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future

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