Teacher Retention Analysis
Teacher Retention Analysis Overview PDF
Donley, J., Detrich, R. Keyworth, R., & States, J., (2019). Teacher Retention Analysis Overview. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/teacher-retention-turnover-analysis.
Failure to retain teachers has been a persistent problem in the United States over the past 25 years. Teacher turnover has contributed to a short supply of qualified teachers in certain locations (e.g., high-poverty urban and rural communities), in particular subject areas (e.g., science, technology, engineering, and math [STEM] courses), and among certain student groups (e.g., special education students) (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2019). These shortages have led to an inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers and poor outcomes for the students most in need of consistent high-quality instruction (Goldhaber, Gross, & Player, 2011; Goldhaber, Lavery, & Theobald, 2015; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivken, 2004). Teacher turnover is also quite costly (Barnes, Crowe, & Schaefer, 2007; Synar & Maiden, 2012), and has been shown to disrupt student learning and lower student achievement (Henry & Redding, in press; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013) as well as contribute negatively to teacher working conditions (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, & Easton, 2010; Ingersoll, 2001; Simon & Johnson, 2015). Keeping effective teachers in classrooms is a key ingredient necessary for school improvement and positive and equitable student outcomes. This report analyzes the retention problem in the United States through documentation of recent teacher turnover data, and reviews the research on the factors that contribute to teachers’ decisions to remain in the classroom.
The Problem of Teacher Turnover
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 problem often described as a revolving door in the teaching profession (Ingersoll, 2003). Teacher turnover includes teachers who move to a different school (“movers”) and those who either leave the profession to retire or leave voluntarily prior to retirement (“leavers”) (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019). Movers and leavers together represent the degree of “churn” in the teacher workforce (Atteberry, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2017; Ingersoll Merrill, Stuckey, & Collins, 2018), while leavers considered separately represent the rate of attrition in the workforce. Rates of churn vary greatly across states, districts, and schools, and across subject areas and student populations (Papay, Bacher-Hicks, Page, & Marinell, 2017; Redding & Henry, 2018). A discussion of recent descriptive data is provided next, followed by an analysis of the factors that contribute to teacher turnover.
Figure 1 shows that teacher turnover rates in the United States have hovered around 16% over the last 10 years for which data are available (Goldring, Taie, & Riddles, 2014).
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics report “Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results from the 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey” (Goldring, Taie, & Riddles, 2014).
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics report “Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results from the 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey” (Goldring, Taie, & Riddles, 2014).
Figure 1. Percentage of public school teacher movers and leavers, 1988–1989 through 2012–2013
While the percentage of movers has remained fairly consistent across 25 years of the study, the percentage of leavers increased substantially from 1991–1992 and peaked in 2004–2005, suggesting increasing problems with attrition during that time period. In fact, an additional analysis of the sources of turnover from 2011–2012 to 2012–2013 found that voluntary preretirement turnover (including movers and leavers) represented two thirds of the turnover rate during these years (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019), as shown in Figure 2.
Adapted from Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2019). Note: percentages do not total 100 due to rounding.
Figure 2. Sources of teacher turnover, 2011–2012 to 2012–2013
While attrition due to retirement is predictable and has increased as the teacher workforce ages (Ingersoll et al., 2018), the relatively high preretirement attrition rate is a cause for concern. Attrition rates in the United States compare unfavorably with those in high-performing countries such as Finland, Canada, and Singapore, which typically average leaver rates between 3% and 4% (National Center on Education and the Economy, 2016).
While most research has focused attention on end-of-year teacher turnover, some studies have addressed teacher turnover duringthe school year (Redding & Henry, 2018, 2019). Within-year turnover may be particularly disruptive to student learning, school operations, and staff collaboration and collegiality. An analysis of turnover data in North Carolina showed that an average of 4.64% of teachers turned over during the school year, accounting for one quarter of the total turnover volume (Redding & Henry, 2018). Within-district transfers were more likely to occur within the first 2 months of the school year, while leaving was more likely to occur at the start of the spring semester. Schools with higher numbers of economically disadvantaged and underrepresented minority students had higher rates of both within- and end-of-year turnover, although the relationship between school economic status and turnover was stronger for within-year turnover. Teachers with higher evaluation ratings were also much less likely that those with lower ratings to turn over during the school year. A subsequent analysis showed that within-year turnover had a larger negative impact on student achievement than turnover that occurs at the end of the year (Henry & Redding, in press). Within-year turnover contributes to the workforce churn that is also generated by end-of-year turnover, and constitutes a significant area for further research.
Factors Related to Teacher Turnover
Research has documented a number of factors that are associated with teachers’ decisions to leave or remain in their schools, including certain school and demographic characteristics, level of teaching experience, qualifications, and teaching area. In addition, school contextual factors and teacher working conditions influence teachers’ decisions to remain in their schools. An overview of these factors follows.
Type of School.Research shows that the movement of teachers out of schools differs by school level and type of school, and is not equally distributed across states, regions, and districts (Ingersoll et al., 2018). Recent national data from 2011–2012 to 2012–2013 show that 8.9% of elementary teachers moved to a different school compared with 7.2% of secondary teachers, but secondary teachers were more likely to leave teaching (8.3%) than elementary teachers (7.1%) (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). Figure 3 depicts the destination of teachers who moved to a different school. Elementary teachers were much more likely to move within-district than outside of the district, while approximately equal rates were seen for secondary teachers. Few elementary or secondary teachers transferred to a private school. While private schools may have advantages such as better working conditions (e.g., smaller class sizes) (Orlin, 2013), they may be less likely to attract public school teachers due to lower salaries and lack of compensation for years of service in teacher retirement systems.
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Education Digest Report (2017).
Figure 3. Percentage of public school teachers who moved to a different school by school level and destination, 2011–2012 to 2012–2013
When teacher turnover rates in traditional public schools and charter schools are compared, research consistently shows higher rates of turnover in charter schools (Goldring, et al., 2014; Gross & DeArmond, 2010; Gulosino, Ni, & Rorrer, 2019; Naslund & Ponomariov, 2019; Newton, Rivero, Fuller, & Dauter, 2018; Stuit & Smith, 2012). For example, the Goldring et al. (2014) study found 10.2% mover and 8.2% leaver rates at charter schools compared with 8% mover and 7.7% leaver rates at traditional public schools. Longitudinal trends show a narrowing gap between turnover at the two types of schools, as shown in Figure 4 (Goldring et al., 2014; Stuit & Smith, 2012).
Adapted from Goldring et al., 2014; Stuit and Smith (2012).
Figure 4. Turnover rates at charter schools and traditional public schools, 2004–2005 to 2012–2013
While these trends are encouraging, there is a great degree of variability in turnover in charter schools across various regions and states. For example, Newton and colleagues (2018) found significantly higher turnover rates in Los Angeles charter schools than in traditional public schools, even when controlling for student, teacher, and school characteristics. Specifically, elementary charter school teachers had approximately 35% higher odds of leaving and secondary charter school teachers were close to 4 times more likely to exit their schools than their counterparts in traditional public schools. Naslund and Ponomariov (2019) found that Texas charter school teachers turn over at twice the rate as traditional public school teachers (36.7% versus 18.2%). While the reasons for the higher turnover are unclear (Stuit & Smith, 2012), several explanations have been proposed, including differences in teacher working conditions, preparation, and support, and the fact that greater rates of involuntary turnover tend to occur in charter schools. Roch and Sai (2018) found (using Schools and Staffing Survey data) that teachers in for-profit and nonprofit education management organizations (EMOs) were more likely to report plans to either change schools or leave the profession than those teaching in regular charter schools, with differences partially explained by poorer working conditions, including less administrative support. Some evidence also suggests that new charter school teachers have less access to beginning teacher supports (e.g., seminars or classes) and less supportive communication with administration, and are slightly less likely to report that they were well prepared to handle instructional duties than traditional public school teachers (Bowsher, Sparks, & Hoyer, 2018).
Naslund and Ponomariov’s 2019 study determined negative effects of turnover on student achievement in both charter and traditional public schools, but found the turnover to be slightly less harmful for science and math passing rates in charter schools. The researchers suggested that greater flexibility in hiring and school leaders’ capacity to remove ineffective teachers may alleviate some of the negative student outcomes of turnover in charter schools, but argued for additional research in this area. Understanding the factors influencing the high rates of turnover in charter schools is increasingly important given their substantial growth in recent years, with more than 3 million students now being educated in charter schools nationally (David & Hesla, 2018).
Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2019) found higher turnover rates in the South, in Title I schools (particularly in math and science, and for alternatively certified teachers), and in schools serving higher proportions of students of color. In fact, teachers in this study left schools with higher proportions of students of color at a rate 46% higher than those teaching the fewest students of color; however, when working conditions are factored in, the predictive relationship between student ethnicity and turnover is reduced. Other research supports these findings, reporting that the rates of turnover have been highest in economically disadvantaged and high-minority urban (Papay et al, 2017) and rural schools (Miller, 2012; Monk, 2007; National Center for Education Statistics, 2017; Sutton, Bausmith, O’Connor, Pae, & Payne, 2014). The rates of mobility (movers) have often reflected an annual disproportionate shuffling from more to less disadvantaged schools, from high- to low-minority schools, and from urban to suburban schools (Ingersoll & May, 2012).
Teacher Characteristics and Qualifications.The exit of teachers from schools is not uniformly spread across different teacher characteristics and qualifications. While women represent the majority of teachers, particularly at the elementary level (Ingersoll et al., 2018), they are also more likely to leave teaching than men due to a variety of factors such as childbearing and better opportunities in other workforce sectors (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Goldring et al., 2014). Younger and older teachers are more likely than middle-aged teachers to turn over, with mobility and attrition generally following a U-shaped pattern as the workforce ages (Allensworth, Ponisciak, & Mazzeo, 2009; Johnson, Berg, & Donaldson, 2005).
Research suggests that beginning teachers have the highest turnover rate of any teacher group (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Goldring et al., 2014; Ingersoll, 2003; Papay et al., 2017), with recent national data showing that more than 44% of new teachers exit within 5 years (Ingersoll, Merrill, & Stuckey, 2014; Ingersoll et al., 2018; Raue & Gray, 2015). Papay and colleagues (2017) reported even higher turnover rates in a study on urban schools, with early-career attrition rates ranging from 46% to 71%, depending on the district. Nationally, nearly two thirds of the turnover among beginning teachers occurs within the first 3 years of teaching (Ingersoll et al., 2018). Most of this turnover is voluntary (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017) and includes moving to a different school, leaving teaching temporarily, or leaving the profession permanently. When asked for their reasons for exit, roughly one third of first-year teachers indicated their exit was due to involuntary staffing changes, 40% indicated that family or personal issues were important, 32% left to pursue another job or career, and 44% left due to dissatisfaction with their position (respondents could report more than one reason for their exit) (Ingersoll et al., 2018). Involuntary transfer or dismissal has frequently targeted early-career teachers, with personnel decisions focused on “last in, first out” policies to determine which teachers to discharge (Kraft, 2015). Research shows that teaching effectiveness improves quickly among early-career teachers (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, Rockoff, & Wyckoff, 2008; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005), and, therefore, lower retention rates among these teachers is of particular concern as schools with high turnover often lose a large portion of their talent pipeline.
Working conditions likely explain a large portion of turnover for teachers overall, but may be particularly important factors for beginning teachers, who are adjusting to the profession and their school context (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; Simon & Johnson, 2015). Some evidence suggests that quality mentoring and induction programs can provide supportive structures for new teachers that increase their chances of being retained (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011; Raue & Gray, 2015). Research indicates that many teachers in high-poverty schools do not have mentors, and even those who do have them are less likely to report meaningful interactions about their instruction, partially because their mentors often teach different grades or subjects, or do not teach at the same school (Donaldson & Johnson, 2010).
While significantly more teachers of color have entered the workforce in recent years due in part to minority recruitment programs, just 20% of teachers are ethnic minorities compared with more than half of the student population (Ingersoll et al., 2018). Most of the increase in minority teachers has occurred in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools (Ingersoll & Merrill, 2017); however, the turnover rate among minority teachers has also increased by 45% in recent years (Ingersoll, May, & Collins, 2017) and exceeds that of White teachers in the most recent data available, shown in Figure 5 (Goldring et al., 2014).
Adapted from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics report “Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results from the 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey” (Goldring, Taie, & Riddles, 2014). Data are not included for teachers of other ethnicities due to reporting standards not being met because of unacceptably high standard errors.
Figure 5. Percentage of public school teacher movers and leavers by teacher ethnicity, 2012–2013
Studies by Ingersoll and colleagues (2017) and Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2019) also found larger gaps between teachers of color and White teacher movers than leavers, and the data in both studies suggested that the difficult working conditions in many hard-to-staff schools were responsible for the higher rates of minority teacher turnover. Minority teacher turnover in these schools may be particularly problematic given research that suggests positive academic and behavioral benefits for minority students assigned to teachers of the same ethnicity (Redding, 2019).
A teacher’s qualifications and entry pathway into the profession also predict the likelihood of turnover. The percentage of teachers entering the profession from outside traditional, in-state university teacher preparation programs nearly doubled from 1999–2000 (13%) to 2011–2012 (25%) (Redding & Smith, 2016), in large part due to staffing shortages in hard-to-staff subjects and schools (Redding & Henry, 2019). Research indicates that, even after controlling for factors that predict high turnover, alternatively certified teachers are still more likely than traditionally prepared teachers to exit the profession (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Boyd et al., 2012; Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019; Redding & Smith, 2016). Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2019) found the turnover rate for alternatively certified teachers 80% higher for Title I than non-Title I schools, and 150% higher in schools with high proportions of students of color (Figure 6). Similar, although less extreme, patterns were observed for regularly certified teachers; however, turnover rate differences among types of schools were statistically significant for both types of certification pathways.
Adapted from Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2019)
Figure 6. Teacher turnover by type of school and teacher certification, 2011–2012 to 2012–2013
Alternatively certified teachers are more likely to work in urban schools in disadvantaged communities, where working conditions are often less than optimal (Cohen-Vogle & Smith, 2007), with less preparation and support than for traditionally certified teachers (Redding & Smith, 2016). Combining teaching and coursework for certification likely is overwhelming and contributes to the difficult professional situation for these teachers (Redding & Henry, 2019).
Research regarding teacher effectiveness and retention provides evidence of two somewhat contradictory trends. Teachers who have stronger qualifications (e.g., higher certification exam scores or higher undergraduate institution rankings) are more likely to exit the profession (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005); however, more effective teachers (as measured by value-added student achievement scores) are less likely to turn over (Goldhaber et al., 2011; Hanushek et al., 2004; Redding & Henry, 2018). While the reasons for these findings are unclear, some researchers have hypothesized that more qualified teachers possess the types of skills that are more highly valued in other professions, but effective teachers stay because their success with students reinforces their professional efficacy and enhances job satisfaction (Katz, 2018).
Teaching Area.Results from analyses of teacher attrition and mobility suggest that elementary and humanities teachers have among the lowest turnover rates, and teachers of math, science, special education, and English for foreign language speakers have significantly higher rates (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Figure 7 demonstrates that math and science teachers are significantly more likely to leave high-minority, high-poverty, and Title I schools than their counterparts teaching math and science in other types of schools (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017; Ingersoll & May, 2012). Relatively high turnover rates among math and science teachers in high-need schools contribute to shortages in these schools in both urban and rural areas (Goldhaber, Krieg, Theobald, & Brown, 2015; Player, 2015). In addition, as many as 30% of math and science teachers in schools with large numbers of students of color are alternatively certified, compared with just 12% of those in schools with mostly White students (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). This is concerning as many alternative certification pathways lack important coursework and student teaching experiences, which can stymie beginning teachers’ performance and ultimately lead to higher turnover rates (Redding & Henry, 2019).
Adapted from Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond, (2019)
Figure 7. Turnover for math/science and special education teachers, 2011–2012 to 2012–2013
Figure 7 shows that while no significant difference in turnover has been found for special education teachers in Title I versus non-Title I schools, rates are considerably higher in high-minority compared with low-minority schools (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019). Special education teachers overall 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). Recent research by Gilmour and Wehby (in press) has also found that as the proportion of students with disabilities increases in the classrooms of general education teachers, the likelihood of turnover increases (but not for special education teachers); however, teaching students with emotional/behavioral disabilities is related to increased turnover rates for both special education and general education teachers. Special education teacher turnover rates along with insufficient numbers of newcomers being prepared has led to teacher shortages in this field, and currently teacher shortages in special education represent the largest shortages in 48 of the 50 states (Sutcher, Darling-Hammond, & Carver-Thomas, 2016).
Teacher-Reported Reasons for Turnover.Understanding the reasons teachers leave may help educators develop solutions to address teacher concerns and reduce turnover. Recent data illustrate the factors that teachers report as very important in their decision to leave the teaching profession (Figure 8) or to move to a different school (Figure 9) (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017).
Adapted from Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond (2017). Figure displays percentages of teachers reporting each factor as important; teachers were able to select more than one reason, so percentages do not total 100.
Figure 8. Factors important in teachers leaving the profession
Adapted from Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond (2017). Figure displays percentages of teachers reporting each factor as important; teachers were able to select more than one reason, so percentages do not total 100.
Figure 9. Factors important in teachers moving to another school
Dissatisfaction was most frequently cited by both movers and leavers as important in their decision to leave. Leavers most frequently cited testing/accountability (25%), problems with administration (21%), and dissatisfaction with teaching as a career (21%) as sources of dissatisfaction; the family/personal reasons they cited included moving to a more conveniently located job, health reasons, and caring for family members. Two thirds of movers reported dissatisfaction as a reason to move, citing concerns with school administration, lack of influence on school decision making, and school conditions such as inadequate facilities and resources (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond’s 2019 research also found that a perceived lack of administrative support and compensation were significantly related to turnover. These findings highlight the importance of working conditions in teacher retention.
Teacher Working Conditions.Working conditions are an important predictor of teacher turnover (e.g., Borman & Dowling, 2008; Goldring et al., 2014; Ingersoll et al., 2018; Johnson, Kraft, & Papay, 2012), and offer potentially malleable school conditions that can be shaped by changes to educational policy (Katz, 2018). Research has demonstrated that student demographics are important in teachers’ decisions to remain at their schools and that they most often leave schools containing large numbers of low-income, low-achieving, and minority students (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Clotfelter, Ladd, Vigdor, & Wheeler, 2006; Hanushek et al., 2004). However, teacher interviews have revealed that dysfunctional school contexts that make it difficult to succeed with these student populations, rather than the students themselves, are responsible for the decision to leave (Allensworth et al, 2009; Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; Johnson et al., 2012). In fact, several studies have demonstrated that teacher working conditions explain most of the relationship between student demographics and teacher turnover (Allensworth et al., 2009; Ingersoll et al., 2018; Ladd, 2011; Simon & Johnson, 2015).
A critical aspect of teacher working conditions that influences retention is the quality of principal leadership (Boyd et al., 2011; Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019; Johnson et al., 2012; Ladd, 2011; Marinell & Coca, 2013). Research suggests that as school leadership improves, the likelihood of teacher turnover decreases (Kraft, Marinell, & Yee, 2016; Ladd, 2011). For example, teachers were more likely to stay at schools where they reported the principal was trusting and supportive of teachers, a knowledgeable instructional leader, an efficient manager, and skilled at forming external partnerships with external organizations (Marinell & Coca, 2013). Additional research indicates that teachers who left schools led by the most effective principals were less likely to be effective than those who left schools led by less successful principals (Branch, Hanushek, & Rivken, 2013). Unfortunately, high-poverty schools are often staffed with less experienced and weaker principals (Loeb, Kalogrides, & Horng, 2010); on a positive note, research has also shown that an effective principal may offset teacher turnover in disadvantaged schools (Grissom, 2011; Kraft et al., 2016).
Teachers are more likely to remain in schools when they report satisfaction with school facilities and resources (e.g., textbooks or technology tools) (Loeb, Darling-Hammond, & Luczak, 2005). Turnover is also more frequent in schools with poor student discipline and where there are issues with teacher safety (Allensworth et al., 2009; Boyd et al., 2005; Grissom, 2011; Ingersoll, 2001). Additional teacher working conditions that have been identified as important to teacher retention (and that are related to administrative leadership) include a sense of collective responsibility for student outcomes, a sense of collegiality and trusting working relationships, parent-teacher interaction, time for collaboration and planning, and expanded roles for teachers (Borman & Dowling, 2008; Kraft et al., 2016; Simon & Johnson, 2015). Simon and Johnson cited three factors supporting teachers’ work with their colleagues: (1) an inclusive environment of respect and trust (e.g., teachers respect one another and trust that their colleagues are “doing the right thing for the right reasons”); (2) formal structures for collaboration and support (e.g., well-designed induction/mentoring programs and well-designed instructional teams or professional learning communities, or PLCs); and (3) a shared set of professional goals and purposes (e.g., all teachers share a social justice perspective and are motivated to help disadvantaged students achieve).
The research literature also suggests that professional empowerment and opportunities for autonomy and shared decision making are important (Goldring et al., 2014; Ingersoll, 2003; Ingersoll & May, 2012; Marinell & Coca, 2013; Wronowski, 2018). Goldring et al. (2014) found that of teachers who left the profession, more than half indicated they had more autonomy in their work and greater influence over workplace practices and policies in their current job than they did as teachers. Inadequate autonomy and empowerment may be particularly important for minority teachers teaching in hard-to-staff schools as well as responsible for many of these teachers leaving the profession and subsequent teacher shortages (Ingersoll & May, 2012; Ingersoll et al., 2017). In addition, research has ascribed higher teacher attrition to a perceived lack of influence and autonomy in the school, and few opportunities for career advancement and career pathways (Ingersoll & Perda, 2010; TNTP, 2012), suggesting that leadership opportunities may encourage many teachers to stay. A recent study found that two thirds of national and state “teacher of the year” award winners rated teacher leadership opportunities as a top growth experience that contributed positively to their career progression (Behrstock-Sherratt, Bassett, Olson, & Jacques, 2014).
A related aspect of teacher working conditions that influences retention is the level of compensation. Teacher salaries are generally not competitive with other labor markets (Hanushek, Piopiunik, & Wiederhold, 2014), even when controlling for the shorter work year, with new teachers earning approximately 18% less than individuals working in other fields, and midcareer teachers earning 30% less (Baker, Sciarra, & Farrie, 2015, 2018). 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 et al., 2014; Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, & Darling-Hammond, 2016). Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond (2019) found a significant relationship between the highest teacher salary possible in a district and turnover; for example, teachers who could earn more than $78,000 in their districts had an attrition rate 31% lower than those who could earn a maximum of only $60,000. Gray and Taie (2015) found a 10-point percentage gap in turnover rates between novice teachers whose first-year salary was $40,000 or higher compared with beginning teachers earning less. Whether math and science and other in-demand teachers decide to remain in teaching is particularly dependent on salary (Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2011). When teachers were asked what would bring them back to the profession, financial considerations including salary increases and an ability to maintain teaching retirement benefits ranked high (Podolsky et al, 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, 2011). 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). Many educational researchers and policymakers are advocating for reforms to the compensation teachers receive, particularly in hard-to-staff subjects and schools (Aragon, 2016; Dee & Goldhaber, 2017; Sutcher et al., 2016).
Summary and Conclusions
Teacher turnover contributes significantly to teacher shortages and often results in the inequitable distribution of effective and qualified teachers across schools. While the overall turnover rate (including teacher movers and leavers) has remained fairly consistent, the rate of preretirement attrition has increased in recent years. Within-year turnover has also been identified in the research as a significant problem, particularly in disadvantaged schools, and negatively impacts student achievement. Elementary school turnover includes a greater proportion of movers within districts, while secondary school turnover includes greater percentages of teachers leaving the profession. Teachers in charter schools are more likely to turn over than those teaching in traditional public schools, in many cases due to poorer working conditions. Teacher turnover is highest among minority teachers (particularly those working in high-need schools), younger or older teachers, those with higher qualifications, beginning teachers, alternatively certified teachers, special education teachers, and teachers of math and science. The key reasons for turnover have centered primarily around dissatisfaction with the job or school due to poor working conditions, which are more predictive of turnover than student demographic characteristics. Principal leadership, teacher relationships and collaboration, a safe school climate, autonomy, shared decision making, and opportunities for leadership and advancement are all important components of teacher working conditions that influence retention. In addition, compensation levels are predictive of turnover, with teachers (particularly those teaching hard-to-staff subjects or students) more likely to exit districts that pay less.
The research cited in this report suggests that teacher turnover is a persistent issue with negative consequences for students and schools but is also linked to several malleable factors that could be addressed through educational policy. In an overview of teacher retention research, Katz (2018) recommended several policy strategies that are consistent with the research reviewed in this report, including focused retention efforts for new teachers, differentiated pay for high-need subject areas and schools, and creating strong cadres of highly effective principals. These strategies and others are discussed in more detail in the Teacher Retention Strategies report.
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