Study: Teacher turnover adversely affects students

21 Mar

Melanie Smollin has an excellent post at Take Part, Five Reasons Why Teacher Turnover Is On The Rise

With approximately 1.6 million teachers set to retire in the next decade, replenishing America’s teaching force should be a top priority. But filling classrooms with new teachers is only half the battle. Retaining them is equally important.

Numerous studies show that teachers perform best after being in the classroom for at least five years. According to a McKinsey study, 14 percent of American teachers leave after only one year, and 46 percent quit before their fifth year. In countries with the highest results on international tests, teacher turnover rates are much lower—around 3 percent.

This constant cycling in and out of new teachers is a costly phenomena. Students miss being taught by experienced educators, and schools and districts nationwide spend about $2.2 billion per year recruiting and training replacements.

Why are so many new teachers fleeing the profession after so few years in the classroom? Here are the top five reasons teacher turnover is an ongoing challenge:

5. BURNOUT: A recent U.C. Berkeley study of Los Angeles charter schools found unusually high rates of teacher turnover. At the 163 charter schools studied, teacher turnover hovered around 40 percent, compared to 15 percent at traditional public schools.

Since demands on charter school educators are seemingly boundless, including extended hours, researchers theorized, burnout is a viable explanation for the teacher exodus. “We have seen earlier results showing that working conditions are tough and challenging in charter schools,” explained U.C. Berkeley’s Bruce Fuller. “Charter teachers wear many hats and have many duties and are teaching urban kids, challenging urban kids, but we were surprised by the magnitude of this effect.”

4.THREAT OF LAYOFFS: In response to annual budget shortfalls, districts nationwide have sent pink slips to tens of thousands of teachers each spring for the past four years. In 2011, California sent out 30,000….

3. LOW WAGES: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently said that teachers should earn between $60,000 and $150,000 per year. That’s a far cry from the current national average starting salary for teachers, which is $35,139….

2. TESTING PRESSURE: Since the No Child Left Behind Act was introduced in 2001, standardized test scores in math and reading have become the most important accountability measure used to evaluate schools.

Studies show that pressure to raise student test scores causes teachers to experience more stress and less job satisfaction. Many educators resent narrowing curriculum and stifling creativity in favor of teaching to the test.

On the National Center for Education Information’s “Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011,” the majority of comments submitted by survey respondents were “expressions of strong opposition to the current emphasis on student testing.”

As states increasingly rely on standardized test scores to evaluate individual educators, determine teacher pay and make lay-off decisions, testing pressure will only increase.

1. POOR WORKING CONDITIONS: When the Gates foundation polled 40,000 teachers about job satisfaction, the majority agreed that supportive leadership, time for collaboration, access to high quality curriculum and resources, clean and safe buildings, and relevant professional development were even more important than higher salaries.

But working conditions in many public schools remain far from this ideal—especially for beginning teachers, who are most likely to be assigned to the highest-need schools. Despite the added challenges they face, these teachers are often given few resources and little professional support.

Since many teachers will be leaving the profession in the next few years, the question is what effect teacher departures have on students.

Matthew Ronfeldt, University of Michigan, Susanna Loeb, Stanford University, and Jim Wyckoff, University of Virginia have written the study, How teacher turnover harms student achievement. Here are their findings:

This study finds some of the first empirical evidence for a direct effect of teacher turnover on student achievement. Results suggest that teacher turnover has a significant and negative impact on student achievement in both math and ELA. Moreover, teacher turnover is particularly harmful to the achievement of students in schools with large populations of low-performing and black students.

Much of the existing literature assumes that teacher turnover impacts student achievement by changing the distribution in quality of teachers in schools. That is, if the teachers who leave a school are worse than those who replace them, then turnover is assumed to have a net positive effect. In this view, stayers, and their students, are merely bystanders who do not affect and are not affected by turnover. Although this study finds evidence that changes in teacher quality explain some of the effect of turnover on student achievement, the results suggest there may be a disruptive impact of turnover beyond compositional changes in teacher quality. First, results show that turnover has a harmful effect on student achievement, even after controlling for different indicators of teacher quality, especially in lower-performing schools. Also, we find that turnover negatively affects the students of stayers – those who remain in the same school from one year to the next.

Thus, turnover must have an impact beyond simply whether incoming teachers are better than those they replaced – even the teachers outside of this redistribution are somehow harmed by it. Although this study does not identify the specific mechanism by which turnover harms students, it provides guidance on where to look. The findings indicate that turnover has a broader, harmful influence on student achievement since it can reach beyond just those students of teachers who left or of those that replaced them. Any explanation for the effect of turnover must possess these characteristics. One possibility is that turnover negatively affects collegiality or relational trust among faculty; or perhaps turnover results in loss of institutional knowledge among faculty that is critical for supporting student learning. More research is needed to identify the specific mechanism….

Finally, the findings of this study have policy implications. Though there may be cases where turnover is actually helpful to student achievement, on average, it is harmful. This indicates that schools would benefit from policies aimed at keeping grade level teams in tact over time. One possibility might be to introduce incentive structures to retain teachers that might leave otherwise. Implementing such policies may be especially important in schools with large populations of lowperforming and black students, where turnover has the strongest negative effect on student achievement.

If this society is serious about educating ALL children, then there must be strategies to reduce teacher turnover and burnout.

Marguerite Roza and Sarah Yatsko from the University of Washington’s Center onReinventing Education have an interesting February 2010 policy brief. In Beyond Teacher Reassignments: Better Ways School Districts Can Remedy Salary Inequities Across Schools Districts Roza and Yatsko report:

Inside nearly all large school districts, the most experienced and highly paid teachers congregate in the more affluent schools. The opposite takes place in the poorer schools, where teachers tend to be more junior and lower paid, and teacher turnover is higher. Financially, this maldistribution means that a larger share of the district’s salary dollars are spent on the more affluent schools, and conversely, the poorer schools with lower salaries draw down less funds per pupil. The problem, of course, is that the resulting dollar allocation patterns work to reinforce achievement gaps, not address them…

This brief addresses this concern by demonstrating that districts would NOT need to mandatorily reassign teachers. It shows that there are other ways to restructure allocations that do not systematically shortchange the neediest schools. Discussed here are four options that districts could pursue to remedy school spending inequities created by uneven salaries:

  • Option 1: Apply teacher salary bonuses to some schools to balance salaries

  • Option 2: Vary class size across schools to level spending

  • Option 3: Concentrate specialist and support staff in schools with lower-salaried teachers

  • Option 4: Equalize per-pupil dollar allocations

Download Full Report (PDF: 736 K)

Every population of kids is different and they arrive at school at various points on the ready to learn continuum. Schools and teachers must be accountable, but there should be various measures of judging teacher effectiveness for a particular population of children. Perhaps, more time and effort should be spent in developing a strong principal corps and giving principals the training and assistance in evaluation and mentoring techniques. Teachers must be compensated fairly for their work. Dave Eggers and NÍnive Clements Calegari have a provocative New York Times article, The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries The Center forAmerican Progress has a report by Frank Adamson and Linda Darling Hammond, Speaking of Salaries: What It Will Take to Get Qualified, Effective Teachers In All Communities

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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