Teachers are the most important in-school factor in a student’s education, but there has been little commitment across states and districts to ensure equitable access to effective teachers.[i] Areas that serve low-income students and students of color have higher rates of teachers who are not certified in their subject area. Teachers in these areas also have access to fewer resources, less time to collaborate, and less access to excellent mentor teachers. About 13% of the teaching workforce moves or leaves the profession each year, and the neediest schools have roughly 50% more turnover than more affluent schools. We know new teachers can be skilled, but great teaching is often developed over time and through experience. With high rates of turnover, students do not have the opportunity to learn from an experienced teacher.
Teacher turnover costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually in recruitment and replacement.[ii] Beyond cost, turnover can have detrimental effects on students. One study found that teacher turnover had a significant and negative impact on student achievement in both ELA and math, and turnover was particularly harmful to students in schools with large population of low-performing and black students.[iii] Turnover impacted not only those students with newer teachers, but also those students of returning teachers in buildings with high turnover, indicating turnover impacts the entire building. This could be due to a loss of collegiality or trust, or a loss of institutional knowledge among faculty.
Many teachers leave because of working conditions and the way teachers are treated in schools and in our society.[iv] There is evidence that accountability policies in recent years have led to an increase in teacher turnover.[v] One study showed that schools that were successful on accountability measures such as standardized state or district assessments had better retention than schools with lower performance. Other factors, such as leadership support, classroom resources, school-wide influence, and background characteristics all contributed to teacher turnover. Accountability policies themselves are not the problem, and likely they are not going away at least in some form. However, within those policies, teachers must be given the tools time, and resources they need in order to meet the standards to which they are being held. One key way of doing this is to give teachers autonomy over instructional decisions in their classrooms.
[i] Haynes, M., & Maddock, A. (2014). On the path to equity: improving the effectiveness of beginning teachers. Alliance for Excellent Education, retrieved from http://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/PathToEquity.pdf
[iii] Ronfeldt, M., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2013). How teacher turnover harms student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 50(1), 4-36.
[v] Ingersoll, R., Merril, L., & May, H. (2016). Do accountability policies push teachers out? The Working Lives of Educators, 73 (8), pp. 44-49, retrieved from https://scholar.gse.upenn.edu/rmi/files/accountability_policies_2016.pdf