It’s Time to Solve the Teacher Turnover Problem
Retaining the best and brightest teachers in the profession remains a sore spot for our nation’s schools. Although teacher recruitment initiatives have expanded, there has not been a coordinated, systemic approach to teacher retention. In NCTAF’s 2003 report, “No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America’s Children,” the findings detailed the chronic problem of teacher turnover, especially in hard-to-staff schools, and the negative consequences for students and school systems of what has turned into a “revolving door occupation.”
This month, the Alliance for Excellent Education reiterated NCTAF’s longstanding message about retention with its newest report, “On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers.” The report warns that the promise of new college and career readiness standards for students will not be fulfilled without addressing the high rate of teacher turnover, especially in high-need schools. The annual attrition rate for first-year teachers has increased by over 40% in the past two decades. Promising new teachers continue to enter the profession but do not stay long enough to become effective, citing poor working conditions, lack of support and autonomy, isolation, and lack of collective teacher influence. Richard Ingersoll, who has partnered with NCTAF to analyze trends in teacher attrition, experience, and age, states: “In short, the data suggest that school staffing problems are rooted in the way schools are organized and the way the teaching occupation is treated.”
This statement directly aligns with the work NCTAF is pursuing around “schools organized for success,” and follows the 2013 TALIS survey results that only 34% of US teachers believe that teaching is valued by society. In addition, more than half of US lower secondary teachers report never teaching jointly in the same classroom with a colleague or observing other teachers and providing feedback. Decades of studies, including the recent TALIS data, indicate that such types of collaboration can be positively related to teacher job satisfaction and self-efficacy factors that help keep teachers in the profession.
At its core, the retention problem is an equity problem. High-poverty schools experience a teacher turnover rate of about 20% per year, about 50% higher than the rate in more affluent schools, as cited in both the Alliance and NCTAF reports. This chronic level of turnover is bad for schools and students, and seriously compromises the nation’s ability to ensure that all students have access to great teaching and learning.
Fortunately, the retention crisis is not without well-researched solutions. Qualified mentors, comprehensive induction programs, appropriate administrative support, and rewarding career paths improve teacher retention. But until we address these conditions at a systems level, we will not be able to fulfill the promise that every child has access to quality teaching in schools organized for success. In the year ahead, NCTAF will be convening a series of national conversations that focuses on ways to organize schools for success and that helps guide policymakers in developing the necessary supports to keep our teachers in the profession.