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The High Cost of Teacher Turnover

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With the Vergara v. California lawsuit shining a spotlight on teacher tenure, it’s easy to forget that for many places, tenure isn’t the issue. The bigger problem is too many new teachers just don’t stay.

Consider a new report, “On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers,” released on Thursday by the Alliance for Excellent Education. It highlights the attrition crisis – a half-million teachers a year leave, costing the United States as much as $2.2 billion – and offers recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of beginning teachers and keep them in the classroom.

The report draws on the substantial research on teacher attrition by Richard Ingersoll, professor of sociology and education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, who hammered home the data during a briefing to release the report.

Ingersoll will publish a new report (expected next week) that provides a detailed analysis of the billion-dollar attrition cost cited in the Alliance report. In fact, an appendix of the Alliance report shares his state-by-state findings. As many as 41 percent of teachers leave in their first five years and in high-poverty schools, the turnover rate is even higher, Ingersoll said. A survey of first-year teachers leaving the profession showed that 45 percent cited dissatisfaction with the job. It was the most frequently cited reason to quit.

It’s not just percentages, but raw numbers, too. The number of teaching staff, especially beginners, has ballooned nationally in recent years, while the volume of students hasn’t. So while 10 percent of first-year teachers left in 1988-89, that translates into 6,000 departures. But a 13 percent turnover rate in 2008-09 translates into 25,000, Ingersoll noted.

First-year teachers who left or moved were more likely to say they received no induction into the classroom, according to Ingersoll. In other words, they were left to sink or swim.

Ellen Moir, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Center based in Santa Cruz, Calif., runs a program that works to help new teachers become successful in the classroom. The center’s teacher induction model is used in more than 40 states and U.S. territories. Beginning teachers receive at least two years of support with well-trained mentors, and other assistance.

The center works with seven states and two school districts to improve conditions for beginning teachers in an initiative called “Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning” (TELL). The TELL initiative has extensively surveyed teachers and administrators across the states and districts on the teaching conditions for new teachers.

For reporters in those states, it would be worthwhile to check out the results, to see how well your state is doing in helping new teachers get the support they need.

EWA offered a seminar session at its National Seminar in Nashville on Rethinking Rookies: How to Cover New Teachers, which featured Ingersoll. See a blog post about this session, as well as Ingersoll’s PowerPoint presentation.

More recently, we looked at a piece by former EWA president Bob Frahm in the Connecticut Mirror. We also examined the issue of teacher turnover at the 2013 EWA National Seminar. And at the 2012 National Seminar, Ingersoll looked at teacher demographics and the greening of the profession.