Teacher attrition and education policy

One of the genuine major issues facing education is one of teacher attrition. Each year significant numbers of teachers leave the profession. From a human capital perspective, this is hugely expensive and impacts education delivery. A large number of studies have been performed to asses this problem. A recent study, published by the american Education Research Association looked at all the major studies in this area. The study can be found here (pdf). What follows are come of the concluding remarks.

This literature review provides a summary and critical evaluation of the recent published research on the topic of teacher recruitment and retention. We reviewed studies that examined (1) the characteristics of individuals who enter teaching, (2) the characteristics of individuals who remain in teaching, (3) the external characteristics of schools and districts that affect recruitment and retention, (4) compensation policies that affect recruitment and retention, (5) pre-service policies that affect recruitment and retention, and (6) in-service policies that affect recruitment and retention.

The reviewed research offered several consistent findings. The strongest results were those relating to the influence of various factors on attrition due to the widespread availability of longitudinal data sets that track the employment of teachers. Below, we summarize the findings that emerged in the recent empirical research literature.

  1. Results that arose fairly consistently regarding the characteristics of individuals who enter the teaching profession were as follows:
    • Females formed greater proportions of new teachers than males.
    • Whites formed greater proportions of new teachers than minorities, although there is evidence that minority participation rose in the early 1990s.
    • College graduates with higher measured academic ability were less likely to enter teaching than were other college graduates. It is possible, however, that these differences were driven by the measured ability of elementary school teachers, who represent the majority of teachers.
    • A more tentative finding based on a small number of weaker studies is that an altruistic desire to serve society is one of the primary motivations for pursuing teaching.
  2. Several findings emerged with a strong degree of consistency in empirical studies of the characteristics of individuals who leave the teaching profession:
    • The highest turnover and attrition rates seen for teachers occurred in their first years of teaching and after many years of teaching when they were near retirement, thus producing a U-shaped pattern of attrition with respect to age or experience.
    • Minority teachers tended to have lower attrition rates than White teachers.
    • Teachers in the fields of science and mathematics were more likely to leave teaching than teachers in other fields.
    • Teachers with higher measured academic ability (as measured by test scores) were more likely to leave teaching.
    • Female teachers typically had higher attrition rates than male teachers.
  3. Regarding the external characteristics of schools and districts that are related to teacher recruitment and retention rates, the empirical literature provided the following fairly consistent findings:
    • Schools with higher proportions of minority, low-income, and low-performing students tended to have higher attrition rates.
    • In most studies, urban school districts had higher attrition rates than suburban and rural districts.
    • Teacher retention was generally found to be higher in public schools than in private schools.
  4. The following statements summarize the consistent research findings regarding compensation policies and their relationship to teacher recruitment and retention:
    • Higher salaries were associated with lower teacher attrition.
    • Teachers were responsive to salaries outside their districts and their profession.
    • In surveys of teachers, self-reported dissatisfaction with salary was associated with higher attrition and decreased commitment to teaching.Teacher Recruitment and Retention
  5. Rigorous empirical studies of the impact of pre-service policies on teacher recruitment and retention were sparse. In general, few results emerged across studies, and the following findings were therefore not particularly robust:
    • Graduates of nontraditional and alternative teacher education programs appear to have higher rates of retention in teaching than national comparison groups and may differ from traditional recruits in their background characteristics.
    • There was tentative evidence that streamlined routes to credentialing provide more incentive to enter teaching than monetary rewards.
    • Pre-service testing requirements may adversely affect the entry of minority candidates into teaching.
  6. Findings from the research on in-service policies that affect teacher recruitment and retention were as follows:
    • Schools that provided mentoring and induction programs, particularly those related to collegial support, had lower rates of turnover among beginning teachers.
    • Schools that provided teachers with more autonomy and administrative support had lower levels of teacher attrition and migration.
    • A tentative finding was that accountability policies might lead to increased attrition in low-performing schools. The entry, mobility, and attrition patterns summarized

One can see from the results of these studies, creating a lower paid, less secure profession as some current corporate education reform policies would do, would create a situation of worse renention, to the determiment of students. The importance of workplace conditions, classroom resources, and support are also critical, and may be lost without the ability to bargain for them.

Clearly, delivery of high quality education at an affordable cost is a complex subject with many complex variables at play. SB5 and HB153's highly prescriptive, and simplistic appoaches to reform without any broad expert consultation are bound to produce sub-optimal results. Ohio should take advantage of it's localized control and delivery of education, and its vast expert resources in education and pedagogy to experiment in reform before committing to a one size fits all simplistic approach.

A second literature review on teacher attrition an be found here.