Increasing teacher pay alone won’t fix turnover problems

Increasing teacher pay alone won’t fix turnover problems

(Ariz.) The shortages of teachers and administrators plaguing Arizona schools is likely to get worse because of high turnover rates and the aging of the work force, according to a new  report.

Researchers at the Arizona State University Morrison Institute for Public Policy found that nearly three in every four campuses in the state are experiencing a shortage of school leaders. The study released earlier this month reported similarly problematic findings related to teacher recruitment and retention.

“Schools throughout Arizona are grappling with a teacher shortage as fewer young people enter the profession and experienced teachers are leaving the classroom,” Thom Reilly, director of the Morrison Institute, wrote in the report. “We often hear the obvious solution: ‘Pay teachers more.’ While pay is certainly a factor–probably the major factor–for why teachers are not staying in the profession, the issue is more nuanced than pay alone.”

Authors of the report noted that, while not the only issue, teacher salaries are a significant factor in Arizona’s shortage. The state is near the bottom in per-pupil spending, and when adjusted for cost-of-living, Arizona elementary school teacher pay is the lowest in the nation, and high school teacher pay ranks 48th of the 50 states, according to the study.

Last year, voters approved a ballot measure to dedicate $3.5 billion in state general fund money to schools over the next 10 years for uses including an increase in teacher salaries, professional development or recruitment and retention efforts. In a separate effort to develop stronger teacher pipelines, Arizona State University campuses are currently working with local high schools to encourage students to pursue a career in education by hosting workshops and explaining how to become a teacher.

Still, researchers found through an online survey of more than 300 administrators across the state that 85 percent of those in rural school districts said hiring new teachers is somewhat or extremely difficult, and 77 percent of urban school district administrators reported the same.

Authors of the report also surveyed 1,600 traditional and charter school teachers representing all areas of the state, and analyzed federal data on labor markets and educational statistics, as well as state employment data on the nearly 90,000 individual teachers who taught in Arizona between 2012 and 2016.

State education department data showed that 42 percent of Arizona's teachers hired in 2013 left the profession within three years. In fact, the state currently loses more teachers each year than it graduates from bachelor of education programs at its three state universities.

Such high turnover can be attributed at least in part to an increase in job responsibilities without a boost in pay, according to the study. A majority of the teachers surveyed said that they were satisfied with their careers, but also felt overwhelmed by being asked to take on more responsibilities without added compensation.

Reilly said that, because teachers are leaving the profession so quickly, students may be left without any experienced teachers.

“As teachers are required to take on more duties, it leads to many teachers burning out and to many leaving the profession,” Reilly said. “If a teacher leaves before his or her maximum effectiveness is reached, children in schools with high teacher attrition may never be taught by an effective teacher.”