Education Migration: Why Teachers Are Leaving the Profession

Teacher shortages are a harsh reality in states across the nation. From California to South Carolina, recruiting and retaining teachers is an imminent concern for school districts, parents, and students. These problems are often more pronounced in high poverty, racially segregated (HPRS) schools. In 2000, annual turnover rates for all public schools hovered around 15 percent. In HPRS schools, turnover was as high as 22 percent. Not only are these schools more prone to teacher attrition and mobility, but they are usually much more difficult to staff in the first place. In her paper “An exploration of teacher attrition and mobility in high poverty racially segregated schools,” Cara M. Djonko-Moore examines a combination of school climate variables to understand the factors that cause high levels of teacher attrition in HPRS schools.

Teacher transfers and attrition are significant expenses for already cash-strapped school districts. These costs are even more pronounced in urban schools where funding can be less predictable than suburban schools. Urban schools are estimated to spend around $70,000 per school each year as a result of teacher transfers compared to their suburban and rural counterparts, which spend closer to $33,000. It is estimated that each additional teacher resignation costs urban school districts an average of $8,750 while rural and suburban districts spend on average $6,250. These additional costs are associated with recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers.

Beyond direct monetary expenses, as more teachers choose to leave HPRS schools, or the profession altogether, schools are left with an experience vacuum. Loss of experienced teachers reduces options for mentorship to help develop more inexperienced faculty. These relationships are crucial to developing teachers that will provide a rigorous learning environment for all students and also help encourage less experienced teachers to remain in the field.

In her study, Djonko-Moore used survey data to determine the motivating factors that induce teachers to leave schools. The perceptions teachers have of students’ behavior as well as the perceptions that teachers have about the community in which the school operates have the greatest impact on the likelihood of a teacher leaving a school for another teaching position. When behaviors of students were perceived as negative, the odds of a teacher leaving a school increased by 193.1 percent. If a teacher perceived the school’s community negatively, it made them 178.2 percent more likely to seek employment at another school.

The analysis of the results also showed, not surprisingly, that salary impacts teacher retention. Additionally, the diversity of teaching staff was linked to the rate at which teachers left a school. Schools with greater diversity in staff and faculty reduce the likelihood of teacher transfers by ten percent with each one percent increase in staff diversity. Other factors like teacher satisfaction and support from supervisors and colleagues did not appear to impact the likelihood of a teacher staying in a particular school.

This information exposes the potential for measures that schools can take to mitigate the problem of teachers leaving HPRS schools. Directed professional development addressing student behavior management and community dynamics could benefit teachers at risk for leaving. Additionally, working to promote greater diversity among staff may help to prevent turnover.

In the mean time, understaffed school districts across the nation are suffering due to budget cuts and an insufficient labor pool. Within the first five years in the profession, half of teachers will end their career or transfer to another school. In order to attract and retain the most effective teachers, policies need to be put in place that promote the profession and make it enticing to current college students. This requires a change in the national view of teaching so that those who choose to spend their lives educating future generations feel their efforts are valued in terms of their compensation and support structures provided by districts.

Article source: Djonko-Moore, Cara M. “An exploration of teacher attrition and mobility in high poverty racially segregated schools.Race Ethnicity and Education. 19:5 (2016): 1063-1087.

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Michael Dean Lindemulder

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