Teacher turnover: What you need to know and how you can curb the trend

Teacher Turnover

Education is consistently one of the nation’s most popular college majors. Many are drawn to replicate those impactful moments when a teacher brought something to life for them. Yet somehow this storied career path has seen its fair share of struggles since the Great Recession. 

Both during and after that time, school districts across the country faced declining tax revenues that forced them to reduce their teacher workforces in a number of ways. Some educators lost their jobs, while salary cuts and changing working conditions led others to voluntarily leave the profession. This unfortunate trend of teacher attrition has persisted.

As such, addressing the continued teacher turnover issue has become a critical aspect of solving the country’s teacher shortage. Join us as we outline some of the key facts surrounding the state of teacher turnover in the U.S., uncover the resounding impact it has on our school system and its students. We’ll also explore a few ways to boost retention among educators.

What you should know about the teacher turnover rate

Eight percent of teachers leave the profession each year. When you consider that the same portion of educators shift schools, the overall annual turnover rate becomes 16 percent across the nation. In fact, roughly nine out of every 10 teachers hired each year are replacing colleagues who left voluntarily, more than two-thirds of whom quit before retirement.

While it’s a widespread problem, teacher turnover is higher under certain conditions and among particular groups. Research suggests that Title I schools—those receiving federal funds for low-income students—see turnover rates that are nearly 50 percent greater than other schools. Rates among Title I math and science teachers are nearly 70 percent greater. These factors are further aggravated in schools with a larger population of students of color.

 Teacher Turnover Statistics


But all of these statistics, while frightening on the surface, don’t mean much until you examine the actual impact teacher turnover can have on students, school budgets, overall school climate and more.

The far-reaching effects of teacher turnover

One of the biggest issues associated with attrition is the way it drives schools to hire inexperienced, less-effective teachers to fill the void created by recurring vacancies. When qualified educators leave, schools often resort to hiring alternatively certified teachers — those who hold a teaching certificate or license that was earned outside of a traditional college preparation program.

It’s often the case that alternatively certified teachers have less preparation and on-the-job support than traditionally certified educators. They’re also 25 percent more likely to experience turnover. Data from the Learning Policy Institute suggests that teachers with little or no training leave at two to three times the rate of teachers with comprehensive preparation.

When turnover contributes to teacher shortages, schools may also resort to increasing class sizes or cutting some of their offerings, which can have adverse effects on student learning. Some additional negative side effects that can result from hiring less-experienced classroom instructors include:

  • Reductions in the time teachers spend with their students as they try to support newer colleagues
  • Loss of established teacher experience
  • Repetition of professional development experiences for all teachers
  • Disruption and repetition of program planning and implementation processes
  • Burnout and drain on the energy of the staff that stay

Instructor turnover can also have a sizable impact on school and district finances. Teacher replacement costs include expenses related to recruitment, hiring, training and professional development. Researchers have estimated these costs to reach as high as 150 percent of the departing teacher’s salary.

3 Ways to improve teacher retention

In order to come up with effective retention strategies, it’s important to pinpoint why so many instructors are leaving. According to the Learning Policy Institute, U.S. teachers’ wages have declined relative to those of other college-educated peers since the early 1990s.

It’s also worth noting that American teachers typically work far more hours with very few allotted for lesson planning and teach above-average class sizes compared to many other countries.

If U.S. attrition rates more closely mirrored those of other high-achieving nations like Singapore and Finland — which typically sit at 3 to 4 percent annually — the shift in annual demand would actually eliminate the national teacher shortage. Consider the example set by Ontario, Canada, which once had turnover rates similar to the U.S. After implementing a well-designed teacher induction program that extends through the first four years of an instructor’s tenure, retention rates for new teachers soared to 98 percent.

Retaining teachers will require a comprehensive approach that can ensure educators are well-prepared, adequately compensated and sufficiently supported in their school environments. Learning Policy Institute researchers have outlined the following three strategies:

1. Compensation

One important factor states and districts can work toward is providing compensation packages that are competitive with those of other occupations requiring similar educational attainment. It can be equally important to ensure those compensation packages remain equitable across districts so that all schools can compete for well-prepared teachers.

In addition to overall compensation, federal and state governments may consider implementing service scholarship or loan forgiveness programs. These funds may cover the cost of teacher preparation in exchange for a commitment to teach in a subject or location of need for a specified time period. This can provide financial incentive for educators to remain in one position while also potentially drawing additional teaching prospects to join the workforce.

2. Teacher preparation

The facts surrounding teacher turnover make it clear that when educators are underprepared, the problem of low retention only grows worse. Potential ways to remedy this include instating teacher residency programs that provide new educators with opportunities to train in high-needs schools under an experienced teacher’s supervision. Mentoring opportunities like this offer tuition assistance or a stipend for living expenses in exchange for a commitment to eventually teach within the district.

Other solutions include partnering with institutions, such as University of Massachusetts Global, that can provide scholarships for staff to earn credentials, certifications, advanced degrees and even professional development experience. These options not only help prepare new teachers for a successful, long-term career but can retain and encourage those with experience.

3. School leadership

Finally, the role school leaders play is essential. If principals and other school administrators enter educational leadership positions equipped with the skills needed to nurture positive environments, we’ll see healthier school systems overall. The Learning Policy Institute researchers suggest a few tactics:

  • Nominating teachers who show strong instructional leadership skills to pursue clinical training experiences
  • Training mentor principals to provide high-quality clinical training
  • Creating principal pipeline programs that focus on the skills administrators need to be effective
  • Assigning highly qualified administrators to the schools in need of greatest support

Alter the teacher turnover trend

There’s no arguing that teacher turnover is a prominent challenge facing school systems throughout America. You now know more about the state of attrition in the education field, the impact turnover can have and some of the possible solutions that can curb this trend.

Remember, the strength of a school’s overall climate often starts from the top and works its way down. Those in positions of educational leadership hold tremendous potential to impact the quality and well-being of their schools and districts. If you’re eager to make an impact in a role like this, learn more by heading over to our article, “Everything you need to know about being a school administrator.”


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