Me on BAM Radio on Teacher Turnover

2341098297_ba2935975dI made a brief appearance on Larry Ferlazzo’s BAM! Radio show to talk more about an upcoming piece about why teachers leave high-poverty urban schools.

Time was short, so I thought I’d collect here, in one place, many of the interesting data points I came across while thinking about the subject.

The best starting place for questions of teacher turnover is probably this report from the National Center for Education Statistics. They surveyed teachers during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years to look at teacher attrition and mobility during that time period.  They classified teachers as “stayers” if they stayed in the same school, “movers” if they moved to a teaching position in a different school, and “leavers” if they left the profession. Here’s what they found:

Context Stayers Movers Leavers
All public school teachers 84.5% 7.6% 8.0%
Charter school teachers 76.2% 11.4% 12.5%
City schools 84.5% 8.0% 7.5%
≥75% FRPL 84.6% 10.3% 5.1%

Interestingly, neither “city” schools nor lower-income schools have noticeably higher rates of turnover than schools generally. Those classifications don’t perfectly capture what’s going on in “high-poverty urban schools” – “cities” seem to be identified mostly in terms of population and FRPL eligibility is a very imperfect proxy for poverty – but they also don’t indicate that schools in poorer or more urban areas are experiencing noticeably higher rates of turnover than other schools. (I threw the charter school numbers in there mostly out of curiosity.)

It is also worth noting, however, that (via Matt Di Carlo) a more recent data set out of Washington, DC did find noticeably higher rates of turnover in lower-income schools in that district. It’s not clear whether DC is anomalous or if the DC data are in some way better.

The NCES also surveyed “leavers” – from public or private schools this time –  who worked in different contexts about why they left the profession. Excluding vague or more personal reasons (like pregnancy), there were some differences in how often teachers in different contexts cited as very important dissatisfaction with administrators:

Context Dissatisfied with administrators Lack of support from administrators
All leavers 12.8% 12.3%
City schools 17.2% 14.9%
≥75% FRPL 18.8% 18.1%

So teachers who leave teaching after working in city schools and lower-income schools seem significantly more unhappy with their administrators. (Remember, however, that teachers in these schools are nevertheless less likely to leave the profession than teachers in other schools.)

What about teachers who stayed in teaching but moved to a different school? Looking at public and private school movers together, movers cited the following factors as very important:

Context Inconvenient Location Dissatisfied with Admin Student Discipline Lack of Influence
All movers 32.7% 17.3% 11.5% 9.8%
City schools 22.7% 19.6% 14.4% 13.1%
≥75% FRPL 23.4% 21.5% 18.4% 14.8%

So teachers moving from city schools and lower-income schools are more likely to cite dissatisfaction with administrators, behavior issues, and lack of influence, but less likely to move for reasons of geography/convenience.

That NCES report also asked leavers what aspects of their new jobs were better or worse than at their teaching jobs. The five aspects of their new jobs that former teachers (in any context) were most likely to rate as better than teaching were:

  1. Ability to balance personal life and work (56%)
  2. Autonomy (53%)
  3. Recognition from managers (50%)
  4. Salary (47%)
  5. Opportunities for advancement (47%)

This doesn’t speak to high-poverty urban school turnover in particular, but it does speak to what teachers in general might be looking for when they leave the profession.

It also occurred to me that not only should we compare turnover in high-poverty urban schools to turnover in other schools, we should compare turnover in schools to turnover in other sectors.

3716520901_211c447865_nHere I’ve had a little trouble finding exactly the numbers I want. According to the NCES, between the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 school years 15.5% of public school teachers left their job. Here’s one source estimating total turnover in all sectors in 2008 at 18.7%.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics put the monthly “separation” rate in 2008 at about 3.5% for non-farm jobs. I think that works out to an annual turnover rate of about 42% across all non-farm sectors, but I may be misunderstanding the calculation. If we look just at the “professional and business services” – a generally well-educated sector – the monthly separation rate in 2008 was closer to 5%. Separations are in general higher in the private sector than the public sector.

All else being equal, turnover is generally a bad thing to be avoided when possible. It’s not obvious, however, that high-poverty urban schools or public schools in general have a “turnover problem” compared to other professions. (I’d like to see an annual separation rate for college educated workers to get a clearer picture.)

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