We know without a doubt that teachers are the number one in-school influence on student achievement. Data indicates that in the last 20 years, teacher attrition has nearly doubled. In fact, 16–30% of teachers leave the teaching profession each year. It is estimated by some that school districts now spend $1B to $2.2B per year nationally replacing teachers. The average cost to replace a teacher is about $20,000 each in many districts. One-third of today’s teachers will retire in the next five years.
In Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond the authors maintain: “When students return to school this year, many will enter one of the more than 100,000 classrooms across the country staffed by an instructor who is not fully qualified to teach. This is because many districts, facing ongoing teacher shortages, are hiring underqualified candidates to fill vacancies.
When discussing why they leave, 18% of teachers see leadership as a key factor in whether or not they stay on the job. Leadership at the district level and building level is critical. Lack of collaboration time and sporadic Professional Development were other factors influencing teacher departure. An astounding statistic is that 90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who left the profession. Other key influences Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond identified on turnover include “a lack of administrative support, working in districts with lower salaries, dissatisfactions with testing and accountability pressures, lack of opportunities for advancement, and dissatisfaction with working conditions.”
Experience in the classroom matters. Effectiveness increases substantially for the first 12 years a teacher is on the job. As teachers gain experience, their student absenteeism rates decline. Students with a highly effective teacher three years in a row can score 50 percentile points higher on achievement tests than students who have a less effective teacher three years in a row. “Turnover rates are highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast, where states tend to offer higher pay, support smaller class sizes, and make greater investments in education. Shortages also persist in specific areas: mathematics, science, special education, English language development, and foreign languages. Turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color” added Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond.
Teacher turnover will eventually lead to a teacher shortage if the supply of new teachers via traditional or alternative routes cannot keep up with the demand. It appears we are heading in that direction. If we continue down that path, nationally and across the state, many underqualified candidates will eventually fill those vacancies. Research indicates that high rates of turnover harm student achievement in schools and districts. “In high-turnover schools, the inexperienced and underqualified teachers often hired to fill empty spots also have a negative impact on student learning” according to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond.
To improve teacher retention, districts and schools must build strong leadership teams aligned to common goals. Schools should provide teachers with common planning time each week. Schools and districts should create a teacher mentorship program, partnering new teachers with veteran teachers. Districts must give teachers and administrators a choice in their professional development’s content and delivery method. There cannot be a one size fits all approach to PD, which too many districts try to mandate. For example, Professional Educators of Tennessee offers their members access to a state-of-the-art online learning portal so educators can get credits to renew their Tennessee Teacher’s License and learn about new and innovative teaching strategies. Educators are able to take the courses when and where it is convenient for them. Many of their offerings are TASL accredited classes as well. In addition, districts should focus on compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.
We need to keep our most effective educators in the classroom and in public education. Our federal, state, and district policymakers must take this issue serious. We are losing too many good educators, and it is time we address the issue.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.