Keeping good teachers in place

A recent IssueBrief from the Alliance for Excellent Education, What Keeps Good Teachers in the Classroom? Understanding and Reducing Teacher Turnover, is a worthy summary of recent research on teacher attrition patterns and has a special focus on ‘the quality of teachers who are departing.’

The brief, compiled with support from the MetLife Foundation (and including some data from the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher), includes these notable facts and findings:

• One study found that individual urban schools spend $70,000 a year on costs associated with teacher transfers—whether they leave the district or not. By comparison, non-urban schools spend $33,000.

• Although retirement accounts for about a third of the public school teachers who leave the profession each year, when examined in the context of total turnover that public schools experience, retirees are responsible for only 16 percent of the attrition.

• Working conditions play a much larger role than retirement in explaining why teachers transfer to different schools and districts or leave the profession entirely.

• A recent MetLife Survey, and studies by the Center for Teaching Quality, both found correlations between better-quality working conditions and decreased teacher turnover.

• Studies looking at the “quality” of teachers who change schools or leave the profession paint a more complex picture than is sometimes supposed. For example:

— Teachers in any phase of their careers who have high academic credentials (such as being a graduate from a highly selective college or having high undergraduate grade point averages) are most likely to leave the teaching profession for reasons other than retirement.

— Teachers with higher academic qualifications are especially likely to leave a school whose students are not performing well academically.

— On the other hand, teachers who have invested in credentials specific to teaching are most likely to stay. For example, women who obtained their National Board certification are 90 percent less likely to leave the school system and 18 percent less inclined to transfer within the district.

— Credentials alone do not clarify whether the “best” teachers are leaving the profession or moving away from disadvantaged schools.

— Studies (many using value-added methodologies built on standardized test data) “find that the lowest-quality teachers, as measured by this standard, tend to have higher rates of turnover and the more effective teachers tend to stay.”

— Although challenging environments generally increase the likelihood of teacher attrition, those teachers who are deemed more effective are also more likely to stay in these lower-performing schools, according to research by Dan Goldhaber and colleagues.

— But Goldhaber, et al, also found that in the MOST challenging schools, the more effective teachers are more likely to move to schools with relatively lower concentrations of poverty and higher performance levels. (Among the factors cited: less than competitive wages, ineffective leadership, challenging work conditions, and inadequate teacher supports.)

• The brief’s authors conclude that, in all cases, the key to retention “seems to lie in the level of success teachers encounter in raising their students’ academic performances.” For that reason, they say, “giving teachers the supports necessary to succeed is critical.”

The AEE policy brief goes on to make a strong, research-based case for comprehensive new-teacher induction programs, citing, among other research, the finding by The New Teacher Center that “an inducted first-year teacher is likely to produce the same levels of student achievement as a noninducted fourth-year teacher.”

In conclusion, the brief’s authors write: Completely eliminating turnover is not ideal, of course, as ineffective teachers do need to leave the profession. However, too many effective, new, and academically strong teachers who have the potential to positively influence the nation’s students leave or move away from disadvantaged classrooms every year because supports are not available to them.

The Alliance’s concise summary of recent teacher-turnover research is a worthy addition to the ammunition chests of teacher leaders who see policy advocacy as an important part of their leadership roles.

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