The Science of Learning Blog

July 29, 2019

Teacher Turnover: Why It’s Problematic and How Administrators Can Address It

BY Karla Wang

As the new school year approaches, administrators might ask themselves, “What can I do so that at the end of this year, all of my teachers will happily choose to stay?”

Teacher turnover continues to concern K-12 educators who see teachers leave every year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 8% of teachers leave the profession yearly and another 8% move to other schools, bringing the total annual turnover rate to 16%. That means that on average, a school will lose 3 out of every 20 teachers.

A recent study by Learning Policy Institute reports that turnover rates for teachers in the fields of special education and English language development are even higher, where special education teachers have a 46% higher predicted turnover rate than that of elementary teachers. Additionally, turnover rates are shown to be higher in schools with more students of color and students from low-income families, where many of the children are English language learners. Moreover, the turnover rate is greater for alternatively certified teachers, who typically have little teaching experience prior to teaching in schools.

While policymakers have generally focused on increasing the attractiveness of teaching or lowering the standards to become a teacher, these solutions can exacerbate teacher shortages in the long run. Long-term solutions emphasizing recruitment and retention can minimize shortages and prioritize student learning. Before going over these solutions, let’s review the problem.

Consequences of teacher turnover

Although some teacher turnover can be beneficial in certain cases, high teacher attrition has potentially harmful effects.

In addition to increasing shortages, high turnover rates create extra costs for schools. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that turnover costs up to $20,000 or more for every teacher who leaves an urban district.

Furthermore, a study from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research shows that teacher attrition reduces student achievement, where high turnover resulted in lower student scores in both ELA and math. 

Teacher turnover can also harm school operations by disrupting school stability, collaboration, collegial relationships among faculty, and results in a loss of vital institutional knowledge. 

Why teachers leave their jobs

Based on a national survey conducted by NCES, the majority of teachers that moved to a different school or left the profession cited various dissatisfactions with teaching as prime motivators. The Learning Policy Institute reports that the most frequently cited reasons were:

  • Dissatisfaction with testing and accountability pressures. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) put tremendous pressure on teachers in low-performing schools to “teach to the test” and teachers were threatened with loss of their jobs if there wasn’t rapid improvement in scores. Note that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replaced NCLB, meaning accountability pressures may be different now.
  • Lack of administrative support. Teachers who strongly disagreed that their administration was supportive were more than twice as likely to leave their school than teachers that felt supported.
  • Dissatisfaction with teaching career. Dissatisfactions included teaching assignments, lack of influence on school decision making, and lack of opportunities for advancement.
  • Dissatisfaction with working conditions. Dissatisfactions included large class sizes and lack of resources.

Improving teacher retention

The results of the national teacher surveys conducted by NCES found that teacher preparation, administrative support, and working conditions were important factors in predicting turnover. Addressing these concerns can improve teacher retention rates and minimize the losses in student learning when teachers leave a school. 

Solutions to combat teacher turnover do not necessarily have to be expensive, but addressing the problems will require extensive administrative effort and support. Here are a few ways districts can tackle these teacher concerns:

Set them up for success

A report by the Learning Policy Institute found that teachers who entered the profession through an alternative certification program were 25% more likely to leave their schools than teachers who entered through regular certification programs. High quality induction and mentoring programs have been found to improve teacher effectiveness and retention, while also giving new teachers immediate access to a valuable teacher network.

Provide them with administrative support

Teachers have cited administrative support as one of the largest determining factors in leaving a school or the profession. By ensuring that teachers receive support from colleagues and administrators, educators are less likely to leave their current position.

One way to support teachers is to give them more opportunities to express their opinions and voice their concerns. Hearing teacher input improves their connection with their work and enables educators to become more involved.

Cultivate collaboration

Building collaborative relationships among teachers has been proven to increase teacher retention rates. Providing avenues for teachers to collaborate with each other helps to cultivate a positive work environment built on trust and can serve as an effective form of professional development for improving classroom instruction. 

The beginning of a school year is a fresh new page and a perfect opportunity to start implementing these changes to improve teacher retention. But long-term solutions often take time to work, so don’t get discouraged if the results don’t appear right away. Just remember that if you support your teachers, they will likely support you back! Have a great back-to-school season!

Further Reading

Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It

What Can We Do About Teacher Turnover? 

The Four Biggest Factors in Teacher Turnover 

3 comments on “Teacher Turnover: Why It’s Problematic and How Administrators Can Address It”

  1. This is what our school is experiencing every year and the article presented is relevant and the reasons presented are the same reasons expressed by teachers in our school who will not pursue after one or two years.

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