How teacher turnover harms students

It’s time to build 21st-century school organizations that support teacher teams that have staying power and that are rewarded for working effectively with their students, families, and communities over time.

Finally reaching the bottom of one my reading stacks, I found myself fascinated and frustrated by the findings of a new study on the relationship between teacher turnover and student achievement.

The study, led by Matthew Ronfeldt and his education economist colleagues, used sophisticated methods to uncover empirical evidence on how teacher attrition, especially in high-need schools, seriously harms low-income and black students. They point out that previous researchers assumed that turnover rates negatively affected high-need students because high quality teachers were the ones leaving.

But this is not the case.

Teacher attrition has a detrimental effect on student achievement “even after controlling for different indicators of teacher quality” — including value-added ratings for teachers who leave and the ones who replace them. The researchers claim that teacher turnover “negatively affects collegiality or relational trust among faculty” or “results in loss of institutional knowledge among faculty that is critical for supporting all student learning.”

Other research has revealed complementary findings. Tony Bryk’s path-breaking analyses, for example, link trust and collegiality among teachers with higher student achievement.

It’s time for policymakers to seriously consider who is recruited into teaching, for how long, and how they are placed in schools. Thoughtfulness in these areas will ensure that teachers contribute to, not undermine, faculty cohesiveness and long-term instructional strategies. It’s time to confront policymakers’ embrace of recruiting underprepared teachers to high-need schools without adequate training, supervision, and support.

At the same time, we need to question their dismissiveness of the positive effects working conditions can have on teaching and learning. It’s time to build 21st-century school organizations that support teacher teams that have staying power and that are rewarded for working effectively with their students, families, and communities over time.