Roll these numbers around in your mind for a minute. Nationwide, about 20% of all new teachers leave the profession within three years and almost 40% are gone within five years. If those statistics sound familiar, they should. This story – here focused on Seattle schools – has been reported annually in one study or another for most of the past decade, maybe longer.
Low pay is often tossed out as the reason teachers move on to other jobs, but it’s not that simple. Volumes of research show that there are many important factors in the high turnover rate – paperwork, shortages of materials, the pressure of standardized testing, indifferent parents. For many teachers, however, it boils down to simple lack of support for the job they’re trying to do.
Some people outside the profession might respond to this with a hearty "so what!". If someone doesn’t want to be a teacher then it’s probably better if they find out early and get a job they do like. Again, it’s not that simple.
High turnover also places a staggering burden on taxpayers by consuming resources that otherwise could be devoted to books, tutors and other instructional resources.
The Texas Center for Educational Research pegs a district’s total turnover cost per teacher — for paperwork, temporary workers, productivity losses and hiring and training a replacement — at about 150 percent of the departing employee’s annual salary.
High Point Principal Cothron McMillian says she’s sure the high turnover has had an impact on student performance. "If you have people in and out, in and out, in and out, you’re always starting over," McMillian said. "It’s not fun."
Check back here again next year and I’ll bet you’ll read the same story with the same statistics all over again. Changing the factors that lead to a high turnover of teachers will require some huge alterations to the way schools are funded and managed. It also requires the recognition that not all neighborhoods, schools and students are exactly alike.
And the recognition that no one-size-fits-all solution with a politically-pretty name is going to improve student learning. You need good, experienced teachers in the classroom and you need to give them all the help they need starting at day one.