Teacher turnover remains high in low-income districts

Teacher turnover remains high in low-income districts

(District of Columbia) Although teacher turnover has been an issue for districts throughout the United States in recent years, schools in high poverty neighborhoods and those that serve predominantly minority students continue to fare much worse, according to a report from the Learning Policy Institute.

In Title I schools which serve more low-income students, turnover rates are 50 percent higher than non-Title I schools, researchers found.

Math and science teachers serving low-income communities had departure rates 70 percent higher than their counterparts in more affluent areas, and among teachers with alternative certifications, it was 80 percent higher.

Additionally, exit  rates are also 70 percent higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color, regardless of Title I status.

“The costs of teacher turnover are disproportionately borne by students in hard-to-staff schools, typically those serving primarily students of color and students in poverty, which are more likely to rely upon uncertified teachers who are often hired as a last resort when fully certified teachers are not available,” wrote Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Institute, and Desiree Carver Thomas, a research and policy associate.

In addition to impacting student achievement and disrupting school stability, Darling-Hammond and Thomas noted that “financial costs also accrue when replacing teachers, with estimates reaching $20,000 or more for each teacher who leaves an urban district.”

Nearly every state has reported a shortage of teachers since the recession–especially in subjects including special or bilingual education, math, and science–with many citing factors such as poor administrative support for teachers, salary issues, aspects of school culture or stress related to high stakes testing where student scores can impact teacher salaries as reasons for leaving the profession.

Although teacher turnover is to be expected, and can even be positive as teachers find schools or that are the right fit, it can also take a toll on schools and students. Research has shown that when turnover contributes to teacher shortages, schools often respond by quickly hiring inexperienced or unqualified teachers to fill classrooms, or by increasing class sizes or cutting class offerings, all of which negatively impact student learning.

Using data from the Restricted-Use Schools and Staffing Survey 2011–12 and the Teacher Follow-Up Survey 2012–13–the most recent nationally representative survey of U.S. teachers–researchers at the Learning Policy Institute examined attrition trends and how they vary across teachers and schools.

According to their findings, turnover rates are highest in the South, at 16 percent, and lowest in the Northeast at 10 percent, likely because that is where states tend to offer higher pay and investment more in education. Additionally, authors of the report found that math, science, special education, English language development, and foreign language teachers are more likely to leave their school or the profession than those in other fields.

Teachers who report a lack of administrative support have the strongest likelihood of leaving, researchers found, and those in districts with a maximum teacher salary greater than $72,000 are 31 percent less likely to leave their schools or the profession than educators in districts with poorer pay scales.

Authors call on federal, state and district policymakers to address some of the most common factors associated with turnover, including compensation, teaching conditions, and teacher preparation and support.

Specifically, the report recommends:

  • Compensation packages be provided that are competitive with those of other occupations requiring similar levels of education and that are equitable across districts;
  • Develop scholarship and loan forgiveness programs in exchange for a commitment to teach in a subject or location of need for 3 to 5 years;
  • Develop “Grow-your-own” teacher preparation models that recruit local high school students or other local community members into teaching, and provide them guaranteed mentorship and employment once they earn their credential; and
  • Create leadership pipelines within districts to fill positions and target the most in-need schools.

“Among in-school factors, teachers have the greatest direct impact on student learning,” authors wrote. “Effectively retaining teachers is crucial to making sure there are enough well-prepared and committed teachers to staff all of our nation’s schools and that the teachers in our classrooms have the time and experience to effectively serve all students.”