High turnover shows need for targeted teacher support

High turnover shows need for targeted teacher support

(Utah) Rates of teacher turnover in Utah is about triple that of the national average according to a new study, which found almost 60 percent of educators left the profession within eight years.

Researchers from the University of Utah tracked 2,699 teachers for five years starting in the 2008-09 school year. In addition to those that left the profession altogether, 19 percent had moved schools at least once during this time period.

“Compared to the national average, beginning teacher turnover rates are very high in Utah,” concluded authors of the report–Yongmei Ni, Rui Yan, Andrea Rorrer and Allison Nicolson, all from the university’s Utah Education Policy Center.

“State policy makers and local policy makers both should be alarmed at the high number of teachers leaving the state teaching core, particularly in the first few years” they wrote. “This speaks to the need for additional support and specific programs aimed at assisting these new teachers to help them stay in the classroom.”

For the past decade, schools throughout the country have regularly reported a shortage of credentialed teachers. Education officials often point to the recession as part of the problem, as thousands of teachers were laid off and many would-be candidates reportedly turned away from the profession and entered paths toward higher paying, more stable careers.  

The Utah Education Policy Center’s study covers the tumultuous period of the recession, but authors noted that the number of teachers in the 2008-09 cohort declined each year even after the recession ended.

The Utah State Board of Education reported schools were experiencing or expected to experience shortages in subjects including math, speech language pathology, special education, chemistry and physics and foreign language almost every year during the time the study was conducted.

At the same time, between 2010 and 2015, Utah was the 5th fastest growing state–and the school age population is expected to continue to increase over the next 20 years, according to the Board of Education. And teachers in the state already face the second-largest student-to-teacher ratio in the U.S.

Lawmakers have taken steps to address the pay gap between teachers and other professions–which currently adds up to teachers in Utah being paid about 70 cents on the dollar compared to the average bachelor's degree recipient in the state–and fill schools which face the highest turnover.

A bill currently awaiting Gov. Gary Herbert’s signature would create a pilot program to pay effective educators who teach at low-income schools $5,000, but participating school districts would be required to match the program's state funding. The bill’s author said approximately 5 percent of the state’s teachers would be eligible.

Those who opposed the bill argued that the money could be better spent by increasing per-pupil funding and allowing schools to increase pay as needed.

Legislators also discussed a $2 million pilot program in 2015 to attract and retain teachers in remote schools near American Indian reservations, as those sites often have the highest turnover rates.

In addition to complaints over salaries however, past research published by the policy center found that when teachers in Utah leave the classroom, issues such as a lack of professional development, possibility of career advancement and respect for the profession from the public also factor into their decision.

While authors of the Policy Center’s report did not provide reasons as to why the turnover rate was so high, they did recommend policymakers survey educators so they can better target resources to help support the profession.