Teacher Retention Strategies
Teacher Retention Strategies PDF
Donley, J., Detrich, R., States, J., & Keyworth, R. (2019). Teacher Retention Strategies Overview. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/teacher-retention-strategies
As research has reliably demonstrated, classroom teachers exert the strongest influence on the educational outcomes of students (Coleman et al., 1966; Hanushek & Rivken, 2006); these include both short- and long-term academic outcomes (Chetty, Freidman, & Rockoff, 2014; Lee, 2018) as well as noncognitive outcomes such as motivation and self-efficacy (Jackson, 2018). Teachers become more effective as they accumulate years of teaching experience (Kini & Podolsky, 2016); when teachers leave a school, they take along their knowledge and expertise in instructional strategies, collaborative relationships with colleagues, professional development training, and understanding of students’ learning needs at the school, all of which harm student learning and school operations and climate (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010; Ingersoll, 2001; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013; Simon & Johnson, 2015).
Teacher turnover, defined as “change in teachers from one year to the next in a particular school setting” (Sorenson & Ladd, 2018, p. 1), has been a persistent and costly (upward of $8.5 billion per year nationally) problem often described as a revolving door in the teaching profession (Carroll, 2007; Ingersoll, 2003). Turnover contributes to teacher shortages (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2019), and frequently leads to the inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers in high-performing schools and inexperienced teachers in high-poverty schools, resulting in poor student outcomes for those most in need of high-quality instruction (Goldhaber, Gross, & Player, 2010; Goldhaber, Krieg, Theobald, & Brown, 2015; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivken, 2004).
Research on teacher turnover has led to the identification of retention strategies to help advance the profession and improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of teachers. This report summarizes available research on these strategies and discusses potential barriers and research on their relative cost effectiveness.
Enhancing the Profession
Research analyzing teacher turnover statistics and factors related to turnover suggests that certain policy changes, programs, and improvements to working conditions may improve the likelihood of teachers remaining in their schools and in the profession.
Strategies to Improve Compensation. Teacher salaries generally are not competitive with those in other labor markets (Hanushek, Piopiunik, & Wiederhold, 2014), and research consistently shows that teachers who work in districts that pay less are more likely to leave their jobs (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019; Goldring Taie, & Riddles, 2014; Loeb, Darling-Hammond, & Luczak, 2005; Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, & Darling-Hammond, 2016). Research further indicates that the highest paid teachers in high-poverty schools are paid significantly less than the highest paid teachers in less disadvantaged communities (Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2012).
The inability to adequately reward excellent teachers contributes to an inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers among schools within districts, as teachers with more seniority transfer out of less desirable placements and are replaced by less experienced, and often less effective, teachers (Podgursky & Springer, 2011). Competitive and equitable salaries as well as other incentives such as housing and child-care supports and forgivable loans and service scholarships can serve to attract and retain teachers in high-need fields (e.g., special education; science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] courses) and locations (e.g., economically disadvantaged and high minority communities) (Podolsky et al., 2019; Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver, 2016).
Several studies have addressed the impact of linking compensation to teacher performance assessed within teacher evaluation systems. Dee and Wyckoff (2015) found that the IMPACT evaluation system in the District of Columbia Public School System (DCPS), which dismissed ineffective teachers and provided large financial rewards (one-time bonuses of up to $25,000 and permanent pay increases of up to $27,000 annually) to highly effective teachers who remained, resulted in significantly more minimally effective teachers (those just above the dismissal threshold) exiting the system and increased retention of highly effective teachers, although the effect was not statistically significant. In a subsequent quasi-experimental study of IMPACT, the researchers determined that the program, which also included nonfinancial supports (e.g., instructional coaching) to lower performing teachers, enhanced the overall effectiveness of the teaching workforce and led to improvements in student achievement (Adnot, Dee, Katz, & Wyckoff, 2017). Cullen, Koedel, and Parsons (2016) similarly found that a teacher evaluation system increased the exit rate for low-performing teachers, but the changes to workforce composition were not large enough to improve student achievement, a finding the authors attributed in part to the lack of a financial reward system for high-performing teachers like the one used in the DCPS system.
A large-scale evaluation of the Intensive Partnership for Effective Teaching Initiative, which included a teacher evaluation and compensation initiative intended to increase low-income minority students’ access to effective teaching, concluded that the program had little impact on the retention of effective teachers but increased the departure rates of ineffective teachers (Stecher et al., 2019). Very few teachers were identified as ineffective, and researchers noted that the school sites had difficulty navigating the tension between using evaluation to help teachers improve and using it for high-stakes decision making about compensation and dismissal. The schools also failed to fully implement the intended policy levers, including changes to compensation, staffing, and career ladders. Rothstein (2015) noted that many districts with evaluation systems leading to the dismissal of large numbers of teachers would likely face a limited supply of high-quality replacements, and these policies would need to be supplemented by improvements to compensation and/or teacher working conditions.
The Florida Critical Teacher Shortage program provided student loan forgiveness to teachers in designated shortage areas, compensated those seeking certification in the shortage areas with paid tuition, and gave single year bonuses to those already certified and teaching in shortage areas. In a 2015 study, Feng and Sass found that the loan forgiveness program and one-time retention bonus resulted in decreased attrition of math, science, foreign language and ESOL teachers, and of special education teachers receiving larger payments; in addition, the tuition reimbursement program increased the likelihood a teacher would become newly certified in a high-need area. This finding is consistent with other studies that found that providing bonuses to effective teachers already teaching in high-poverty or low-achieving schools can lead to increased retention (Clotfelter, Glennie, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2008; Springer, Swain, & Rodriguez, 2016; Swain, Rodriguez, & Springer, 2019). Clotfelter and colleagues found that bonus payments reduced teacher attrition rates by 17% in hard-to-staff subjects in disadvantaged and/or low-performing schools during the 3 years of the bonus program. Springer et al. (2016) reported that a $5,000 bonus for high-performing teachers working in high-need schools in Tennessee improved retention in tested grades and subjects by 20% but did not impact the retention of other teachers who did not receive bonuses.
The Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI) offered a substantial financial incentive ($20,000 over 2 years) to encourage highly effective teachers in a North Carolina district to transfer to the lowest performing schools (Glazerman, Protik, Teh, Bruch, & Max, 2013). This initiative succeeded in attracting high-performing (based on value-added data) teachers to fill the vacancies in these schools and was associated with increased retention rates during the 2-year bonus period. However, turnover increased substantially after the bonus program, and no retention differences were found between bonus and non-bonus recipients after the program ended. The sustainability of these bonus programs is a key concern; additional research is needed to determine longer term impacts on retention, and in all likelihood these programs will need to be combined with other initiatives such as leadership opportunities and improved teacher working conditions in order to retain effective teachers over the long term (Aragon, 2016).
Late-career financial incentives are also recommended by some researchers, as the teaching profession has a greater percentage of early retirees than other professions (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017; Harris & Adams, 2007). Kim, Koedel, Ni, and Podgursky (2016) simulated the impact of targeted retention bonuses on effective senior STEM and non-STEM teachers, and found that a 1-year bonus of $5,000 could add approximately 3 years to a STEM teacher’s career and 5 to 8 years to the career of a highly effective non-STEM teacher. Kim, Koedel, Ni, Podgursky, and Wu (2017) examined Missouri’s teacher retirement model and conducted simulation analyses to project the impact of selectively neutralizing the strong “push” incentives in teachers’ retirement plans through targeted retention initiatives for late-career teachers. The two incentives studied were one-time bonuses and deferred retirement option plans (DROPs), which allow teachers to retire and begin collecting all or part of their pension annuities while continuing to work for a limited time period. Both incentives were targeted at STEM teachers with 32 years of experience. They found that this process could result in between 3 and 8 additional teaching years for senior teachers for as little as $1,269 per year using the DROP plans; retention bonuses were more costly at the $5,000 to $10,000 levels that would be required. The researchers suggested that this retention strategy could be a useful tool for raising teacher workforce quality and closing achievement gaps if bonuses and retirement options were targeted to teachers in high-need fields and to effective teachers at high-poverty schools (Kim et al., 2017).
Most researchers agree that, to ensure incentive programs are cost-effective, districts must target financial incentives at teachers in hard-to-staff schools or teaching areas and who have demonstrated positive impacts on student achievement (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017; Sutcher et al., 2016). In addition, financial incentive strategies may be most effective and sustainable when paired with leadership and/or career advancement opportunities as well as improvements to teachers’ working conditions (Aragon, 2016).
Strategies to Improve Leadership and Career Advancement Opportunities. While there is little in the research literature that directly links retention to increased leadership opportunities, the research on teachers’ reported levels of dissatisfaction and turnover suggests that a lack of autonomy and few opportunities for professional advancement factor into teachers’ decisions to leave (Ingersoll & Perda, 2010; TNTP, 2012). The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification, which has been associated with teacher effectiveness (Chingos & Peterson, 2011; Cowan & Goldhaber, 2016), may offer one route by which teachers can advance professionally, and many states have introduced financial incentives to reward teacher attainment of this credential (Cowan & Goldhaber, 2018). For example, North Carolina provides a 12% salary boost to teachers earning NBPTS certification (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2009).
However, research has also demonstrated higher teacher mobility for North Carolina teachers earning NBPTS certification (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2009); NBPTS-certified teachers, particularly those in high-minority schools, are more likely than teachers without NBPTS certification to exit the state’s public school system or move to another more advantaged school. Having this credential may signal to other employers that a teacher is effective, increasing the probability that effective teachers switch schools. The researchers suggested that differential compensation incentives that encourage NBPTS teachers to work in and remain in disadvantaged schools, similar to those studies cited above (Clotfelter et al., 2008; Springer et al., 2016), would be more effective. Cowan and Goldhaber (2018) used a regression discontinuity design to examine the impact of a teacher incentive policy in Washington State that provided a financial bonus of $10,000 to NBPTS teachers to retain them in high-poverty schools ($5,000 for holding certification and $5,000 to work in a high-poverty school). The policy increased the proportion of teachers obtaining the professional certificate, and reduced turnover rates by 31% to 41% among NBPTS teachers.
Accomplished teachers who are given the chance to share their expertise by serving in teacher leadership roles (e.g., coaches, teacher educators, mentors) without leaving the classroom entirely may be less likely to leave the profession. Career advancement programs (e.g., career ladders) that offer increased compensation, responsibility, and recognition may attract larger numbers of high-quality teachers and keep them in the classroom (e.g., Natale, Gaddis, Bassett, & McKnight, 2013, 2016); however, research addressing their effectiveness is limited (Milanowski & Miller, 2014). Booker and Glazerman (2009) found that teachers in a career ladder program were significantly less likely to leave their districts or the teaching profession than teachers in noncareer ladder districts and were more likely to report increased job satisfaction.
A Chicago study found that a schoolwide career ladder model that included additional compensation for teachers was effective in increasing teacher retention (Glazerman & Seifullah, 2012). A recent case study analysis of eight career ladder initiatives found increased application and retention rates of experienced teachers at most of the sites. Most of the initiatives required teacher leaders to continue full-time teaching responsibilities, although they provided substitutes and modest stipends as needed (Natale et al., 2016). The lack of release time and the modest stipends resulted in some highly effective teachers opting not to apply for certain leadership roles. Establishing career ladder programs requires substantial monetary support and sustaining them requires funding continuity, both of which can present significant challenges (Natale et al., 2016). Demonstrated positive evaluation results for teacher retention and student achievement are necessary to demonstrate the value of these programs to stakeholders (Milanowski & Miller, 2014).
The Opportunity Culture initiative may provide a model to extend the reach of effective educators and sustainably fund teacher leader roles by exchanging current roles for new higher paid roles. Multiclassroom leadership involves highly effective teachers assuming a leadership role for a team of teachers along with accountability for student outcomes in the classrooms of team teachers. The multiclassroom leader (MCL) “becomes a mentor and instructional resource for all on the team, and leadership responsibilities include supervising instruction, evaluating and developing teachers’ skills, and facilitating team collaboration and planning” (Backes & Hansen, 2018, p. 5). Significant compensation is provided for these teacher leader roles, with MCLs receiving stipends between $13,000 and $23,000, depending on the numbers of students and teachers reached (Natale et al., 2016). While the impact of this model on teacher retention is unknown, a recent evaluation of the initiative in three pilot school districts found that Opportunity Culture schools, and specifically the MCL model, significantly improved students’ performance in math, but not in reading (Backes & Hansen, 2018). The researchers suggested that the results, while preliminary, may indicate that the intensive, personalized instructional coaching provided by the MCL model led to net overall improvements in math teacher effectiveness, a finding that is consistent with research on the positive impact of teacher coaching on instruction and achievement (Kraft, Blazar, & Hogan, 2018).
Strategies to Improve Teacher Working Conditions. Research suggests that when the organizational contexts in which teachers work are enhanced, teachers are more likely to persist in their positions (Kraft, Marinell, & Yee, 2016). Student disciplinary problems, administrative support, teacher collaboration, and professional development all determine the quality of working conditions and factor into teachers’ decisions to remain at their schools (Nguyen, 2018). Working conditions have been described in the literature as a mediator in the relationship between teacher turnover and school demographic characteristics (Geiger & Pivovarova, 2018), and may be particularly important for minority teacher retention.
Improving administrative leadership. Principal leadership plays a large role in determining working conditions and strongly impacts teacher turnover, particularly in high-need schools (Grissom, 2011); school districts that struggle with teacher turnover must recruit principals who have the proven capacity to improve teacher working conditions (Burkhauser, 2017). Principals are charged with shaping the school’s vision, serving as instructional leaders, developing teachers’ leadership skills, managing people and processes, and ensuring a hospitable and safe school environment (Wallace Foundation, 2013). In addition, principals generally are capable of identifying their strongest teachers and in helping to refine and reinforce retention efforts that encourage effective teachers to stay and ineffective ones to leave (Jacob & Lefgren, 2008; TNTP, 2012). Some research demonstrates that high-quality principal preparation and development programs can increase principals’ effectiveness in retaining high-performing teachers. Providing principal professional development activities such as coaching and/or mentoring holds promise for improving principal practice and reducing teacher attrition (Jacob, Goddard, Kim, Miller, & Goddard, 2015; Lochmiller, 2013).
One research-based principal and teacher-leader development program is the McREL Balanced Leadership Program, designed to provide research-based guidance in the form of 21 key leadership responsibilities that help principals and other leaders become more effective and improve their capacity to enhance student achievement. A randomized control trial study of rural schools in Michigan showed that the program significantly reduced teacher turnover among both teachers participating in the program and colleagues who did not participate but worked at the same school (Jacob et al., 2015).
Special educators are particularly likely to be unsatisfied with their working conditions, which often contribute to high levels of stress and burnout and result in increased attrition rates (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019; Burkhauser, 2016; Moore, 2018; Vittek, 2015). They rely heavily on coordination with many other professionals to serve their students, and need strong collaborative relationships with school leaders to support their work (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019). However, these relationships are often lacking (Moore, 2018), and special educators commonly perceive that they receive insufficient professional development or support from administrators to be successful (Andrews & Brown, 2015). While there is a dearth of research in how principals can best support special education teachers, some case study evidence suggests that a “servant style” leadership role may be effective (Moore, 2018). This leadership style involves school leaders regularly showing appreciation and recognition, fostering creativity and autonomy, creating a cohesive culture, and showing concern for the psychological well-being of special education teachers. Principal preparation must include methods to effectively support special education teachers to enhance the likelihood that these teachers will be retained (Burkhauser, 2016; Moore, 2018).
Enhancing other aspects of teachers’ working conditions. Schools with sufficient instructional resources, safe and clean facilities, and reasonable class sizes also are more likely to retain teachers (Borman & Dowling, 2008). Teacher surveys or other assessments of working conditions can be used to determine the quality of the school working environment, and the data can be used to target improvements as necessary to foster higher levels of retention (Burkhauser, 2017; Kraft et al., 2016; Podolsky et al., 2019). For example, the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Survey was used to garner support for statewide education initiatives (e.g., increased planning time and funding for professional learning) that could improve teacher working conditions in North Carolina (Burkhauser, 2017). Another study found that teachers’ survey responses to items addressing principal leadership, the school’s climate, and relationships with colleagues strongly predicted teacher satisfaction and plans to remain in teaching (Johnson, Kraft, & Papay, 2012).
Improved working conditions may also be fostered through targeted professional learning strategies and school redesign (Podolsky et al., 2019). Teachers need ample time for productive collaboration to plan, evaluate, and modify curricula (Simon & Johnson, 2015), and regular blocks of time that are built into the daily schedules of teachers teaching the same subject or who share groups of students may foster teacher retention. Redesigned high schools that incorporate additional time for teachers offer the potential for improved teacher working conditions and retention (Glennie, Mason, & Edmunds, 2016); however, research has yet to address this topic fully. In many cases, additional resources will be necessary to compensate teachers for professional learning that occurs outside their contract roles, or to hire additional staff to cover teachers’ classes during professional learning time (Podolsky et al., 2019).
Improving Recruitment, Preparation, Hiring, and Early-Career Supports
Attracting qualified candidates to teach and remain in hard-to-staff schools is challenging, and several recruiting approaches have proven to be successful. Districts and schools with effective hiring and personnel management practices and policies are also more likely to retain teachers, and effective preparation and induction programs can decrease the chances of turnover. An overview of strategies to address these areas follows.
Strategies to Improve Teacher Recruitment and Preparation. The research suggests that retention and recruiting, particularly in high-need fields, can be enhanced with well-designed programs that subsidize the costs of preparation (Feng & Sass, 2015; Podolsky & Kini, 2016). For example, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program funded through the National Science Foundation “seeks to encourage talented [STEM] majors and professionals to become K–12 mathematics and science (including engineering and computer science) teachers” (National Science Foundation, n.d.). Common components of the various programs include internships, scholarships, and support systems that are built into teacher preparation programs and extend into the early years of teaching (Kirchoff & Lawrenz, 2011; Ticknor, Gober, Howard, Shaw, & Mathis, 2017). Recipients reported that the scholarship influenced their commitment to teach in a high-need school (Liou, Kirchoff, & Lawrenz, 2010), and the greater the scholarship amount relative to tuition costs, the more the scholarship influenced the decisions of recipients, especially non-Whites, to enter the teaching profession and teach in high-need schools (Liou & Lawrenz, 2011).
Other research has shown that supportive peer networks are important in scholarship recipients’ decisions to remain in high-need schools beyond required time periods (Ticknor et al., 2017). The North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program recruits high-performing high school students to complete a teacher preparation program involving high levels of peer interaction through supportive networks in exchange for a commitment to teach in the state for at least 4 years. Researchers found that teaching fellows had higher retention rates and were more effective than educators prepared in or out of state, alternative entry educators, or Teach for America teachers; in addition, three quarters of teaching fellows returned for an additional year beyond their program commitment (Henry, Bastian, & Smith, 2012).
Grow Your Own (GYO) programs have been proposed as potential solutions to systemic teacher shortages and, in some cases, to increase teacher diversity in urban and isolated rural schools. GYO programs capitalize on the fact that many young teachers have a strong preference to teach close to home, and they establish career pathways or pipelines for candidates who are committed specifically to teach in these environments (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005; Reininger, 2012). GYO programs can be implemented at the high school level through cadet programs and teaching academies, and many programs also recruit and support community members and paraprofessionals in earning a teaching credential (Sutcher et al., 2016). These programs, which increasingly receive attention in the research literature, are widely touted as avenues to increase diversity and staff hard-to-staff subjects and schools in both urban and rural settings. Some research has demonstrated high retention rates for teachers participating in various types of programs (Gist, Bianco, & Lynn, 2019), including paraprofessional (Abramovitz & D’Amico, 2011; Clewell & Villegas, 2001) and teacher assistant pipeline programs (Fortner, Kershaw, Bastian & Lynn, 2015). For example, Ross and Ahmed (2016) demonstrated long-term (10 to 15 years) retention rates for a community-focused immigrant teacher pipeline program.
Strong teacher preparation programs contribute to the professional efficacy needed to increase the likelihood of retention (Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Ingersoll, Merrill, and May (2014) suggest that quality preparation programs include courses in teaching/learning methods, opportunities for observations of effective teaching, and student teaching experience coupled with feedback. The scholarship, teaching fellows, and GYO programs discussed previously offer examples of subsidizing some of the costs of preparation to attract and retain qualified candidates to teach in high-need areas. Teacher residencies, an alternative to traditional preparation programs, provide another research-based strategy for enhancing the likelihood of preparing and retaining effective teachers. While many alternative certification programs require teachers to train while teaching in order to earn income, teacher residency models fund preparation costs for candidates while allowing for a full preparation year before employment (Guha, Hyler, & Darling-Hammond, 2016). These programs “place candidates who plan to teach in shortage fields and who want to commit to high-need urban or rural schools into paid year-long apprenticeships with expert mentor teachers, while they complete tightly linked credential coursework and earn a master’s degree from partnering universities” (Sutcher et al., 2016, p. 63). Program participants continue to receive mentoring while they teach, and pledge to spend a minimum of 3 to 5 years in the district’s schools. Emerging research suggests that teacher residency program graduates have higher levels of retention than their nonresidency peers, with 80% to 90% remaining as teachers within the district after 3 years, and 70% to 80% remaining after 5 years (Guha et al., 2016; Papay, West, Fullerton, & Kane, 2012; Silva, McKie, & Gleason, 2015). Teacher residency programs have been perceived by some as expensive compared with traditional preparation costs; however, recent models have found ways to reduce costs associated with some of the earlier models (LiBetti & Trinidad, 2018). Sustainable funding models that can demonstrate return-on-investment to education stakeholders are needed in order for teacher residencies to realize their full potential.
Strategies to Improve Teacher Hiring and Personnel Management. Using effective hiring processes to ensure that schools select effective educators for their particular educational context is an important factor in teacher retention. Hard-to-staff schools, however, frequently struggle with hiring processes and fail to actively identify top prospective teachers (Simon, Johnson, & Reinhorn, 2015), and have an inadequate pool of candidates within the district who are capable of meeting students’ needs (Johnson, Marietta, Higgins, Mapp, & Grossman, 2015). A qualitative study of six urban schools that demonstrated success with low-income minority students found that each school went beyond district resources to pursue candidates who shared their mission of working with these students, and proactively developed relationships with universities, nonprofits, and the personal and professional networks of teachers already teaching at the school to increase the pool of qualified candidates (Simon et al., 2015).
The timing of hiring also is important. Research demonstrates substantially lower retention of teachers hired after the school year has started and poor achievement outcomes for students taught by these teachers (Jones, Maier, & Grogan, 2011; Papay & Kraft, 2016). This is likely in part because these teachers become overwhelmed trying to balance the tasks of planning curriculum and instruction and learning about school and district operations with the responsibilities of teaching (Papay & Kraft, 2016). Late hires are more common in schools serving large numbers of disadvantaged students (Papay & Kraft, 2016). When hiring teachers and principals for schools in the most need of improvement, districts would be wise to adopt earlier, aggressive recruiting practices (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017; Liu & Johnson, 2006; National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, 2011).
Information obtained from candidates in the hiring process is also influential in recruitment and retention (Liu & Johnson, 2006), and helps schools assess the fit between the candidate and the school’s needs. “Information rich” hiring processes, which may include teacher observation data and/or videos of demonstration lessons, require significant time, a commodity often unavailable to busy educators (Rutledge, Harris, Thompson, & Ingle, 2008). Data-focused hiring practices in general may help districts recruit and hire high-quality candidates, and more accurately predict whether a teacher will be effective in a particular school (Flanagan, 2016).
Some teachers will inevitably need to relocate to other schools due to geographic moves, and state and district policies regarding certification reciprocity, pensions, and salary schedules are often influential in determining whether they remain in the profession (Podolsky et al., 2019). Mobile teachers often face purposeful barriers, such as knowledge testing and teacher preparation/coursework requirements to ensure quality, and artificial barriers such as slow administrative processes, costs of courses and exams, and unclear licensure requirements (Coggshall & Sexton, 2008; Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003). Additionally, mobility can result in the loss of tenure level and seniority (along with the reductions in salary), as well as negatively impact teacher pensions (Podolsky et al., 2019). Licensure reciprocity agreements among states that recognize the preparation and experience of out-of-state teachers, and enhanced cross-state pension portability might increase the likelihood that mobile teachers remain in the profession (Goldhaber, Grout, Holden, & Brown, 2015; Podolsky et al., 2019).
Strategies to Improve Induction and Support for Early-Career Teachers. Research indicates high turnover rates within the first 5 years of teaching, particularly when teachers lack supportive school structures to develop their expertise (Borman & Dowling, 2008). Most states and districts have developed induction programs for new teachers to provide a “bridge from student of teaching to teacher of students” (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011, p. 203). These programs provide a range of supports that include mentoring by experienced teachers, workshops, common planning time with experienced colleagues, and reduced course loads. Research has generally found a positive relationship between induction programs (particularly mentoring components) and teacher retention (Bastian & Marks, 2017; Raue & Gray, 2015; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004). A recent national study of early-career teachers found that providing induction supports—supportive communication with school leaders, mentoring, beginning-teacher seminars, and to a slightly lesser extent collaboration/planning time—predicted a lower likelihood of teachers moving schools or leaving the profession (Ronfeldt & McQueen, 2017). In addition, these first-year induction supports also predicted a lower likelihood of attrition across teachers’ first 5 years in the profession.
Wood and Stanulis (2009) stated that a quality teacher induction program “enhances teacher learning through a multi-faceted, multi-year system of planned and structured activities that support novice teachers’ developmentally-appropriate professional development in their first through third year of teaching” (p. 3). Stronger effects have been found in the literature for induction programs that provide teachers with mentors from their own subject area, and for induction programs that allow for common planning or collaboration time with other colleagues teaching in the mentee’s subject area (Ingersoll, 2012). Ingersoll also found that the more comprehensive the induction package, the greater the benefits in reducing teacher attrition. However, the only experimental study to date failed to find differences in the retention of teachers receiving a comprehensive induction program compared with teachers receiving a less intensive program (Glazerman et al., 2010); much more causal research is needed (Ronfeldt & McQueen, 2017).
Comprehensive induction programs that contribute to improved teacher working conditions may be especially crucial for high-poverty, low-performing schools, which often have a greater number of newer, less experienced teachers who tend to be the most likely to leave the profession (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; Simon & Johnson, 2015). Research shows that many of the teachers in such schools do not have mentors, and those who do often have mentors who teach different grades or subjects, or do not teach at the same school (Donaldson & Johnson, 2010). High-quality induction programs may be a cost-effective approach for schools and districts. One study found that after 5 years of a comprehensive 2-year induction program, the cost of $13,500 yielded $21,500 in benefits including lower turnover and consequently lower recruiting costs (Villar & Strong, 2007). See Wood and Stanulis (2009) for a review of the induction literature and quality program components.
High-quality induction is also critical for special education teachers, who have higher average turnover rates than general education teachers, particularly during the early-career years (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Vittek, 2015). These teachers are likely to face difficult working conditions, such as excessive paperwork, lack of collaboration with colleagues, lack of appropriate induction/mentoring, and lack of administrative support, all of which increase the likelihood that they will transfer to a general education position or leave teaching entirely (Boe, Cook, & Sunderland, 2008; McLesky, Tyler, & Flippin, 2004; Vittek, 2015). These first-year stressors can be alleviated, in part, through high-quality induction programs (Leko & Smith, 2010). Induction supports for new special education teachers must be separate from those provided in general education induction because of the distinctive issues these teachers face early in their careers (Thornton, Peltier, & Medina, 2007). Because special educators serve multiple roles in their early years of teaching, having both general and special education mentors may be beneficial (Wasburn-Moses, 2006).
Summary and Conclusions
The research supports several strategies for improving teacher retention, including ways to enhance teaching as a profession as well as ways to attract, hire, prepare, and support teachers more effectively. Many studies support the strategy of improved compensation to enhance the profession through competitive and equitable salary structures, particularly for economically disadvantaged schools. Incentives such as loan forgiveness and paid tuition for preparation, and, in certain cases, targeted bonuses for effective teachers in hard-to-staff subjects and schools have demonstrated their effectiveness. Whether linking financial incentives to performance within evaluation systems improves retention of effective teachers and removes those who are ineffective is unclear, and districts must be mindful of the quantity and quality of available replacement teachers. Districts and schools must also weigh the costs and capacity for sustainability of targeted financial incentives when planning compensation initiatives. Late-career financial incentives for highly experienced and effective teachers have been projected to extend these teachers’ careers, and may offer a relatively cost-effective strategy for retaining them.
Research also suggests that increasing opportunities to grow in the profession through leadership and career advancement can enhance the chances of retaining teachers. Earning national board certification provides one leadership pathway that can improve retention when tied to financial incentives to work in challenging schools. There is some evidence that career ladders can serve to retain teachers; however, these programs require substantial up-front and continuing monetary support. Strategies to enhance teachers’ working conditions through investment in enhanced principal preparation and coaching/mentoring can improve retention, and may be particularly important for retaining special education teachers, who have particularly high attrition rates. Understanding teachers’ perceptions of their working conditions can help districts and schools target areas needing improvement. Increasing the opportunities for collaboration and professional learning by building in and compensating for the time needed for these activities can further enhance the profession and may lead to better retention. Combining financial incentives with initiatives to enhance teacher working conditions may be particularly effective; more research is needed to identify how best to design programs that combine incentives and improved working conditions in ways that are cost-effective.
Programs that subsidize preparation costs to encourage teachers to enter the profession and teach in shortage areas or in high-poverty schools can increase the applicant pool to address these needs. Various scholarship and Grow Your Own programs may attract more diverse candidates to the field while simultaneously enhancing their preparation and increasing the odds that they will be retained. Teacher residencies, which allow for a full year of high-quality mentoring and preparation supports prior to teaching, have proven to be an effective although relatively expensive retention strategy; sustainable funding processes must be carefully incorporated to maximize their impact. Improved hiring and personnel processes, such as avoiding “late hiring” and incorporating information-rich hiring processes can help schools recruit and hire teachers who will be effective in their particular school context. Teacher mobility is inevitable, but removing or minimizing barriers to working in another state, for example, can increase the likelihood that teachers remain in the profession. Finally, high-quality induction and mentoring strategies are essential to prevent the high turnover rates of novice teachers, and can offer a cost-effective way to improve retention. Research shows that early-career special education teachers are in particular need of high-quality induction supports to address the additional stressors and challenging working conditions they face as they enter the profession.
There is no silver bullet to improve retention, and local contexts will determine which strategies and policy changes are most appropriate for school and district needs and which have the greatest likelihood of overcoming existing barriers to implementation (Podolsky et al., 2019). For example, when selecting initiatives that require substantial financial resources (a potential barrier), careful consideration must be given to documenting both the impact on retention and the strategy’s cost-effectiveness, as well as how the funding will be sustained beyond the initial implementation period. Policy strategies such as increasing licensure reciprocity across states are complex and require substantial state-level will, expertise, and coordination among leaders. Schools, districts, and states must identify potential barriers and determine how to address them when implementing any of the retention strategies documented in this report.
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