Thursday, June 12, 2014

Shanker Blog » Is Teacher Attrition Actually Increasing?

Shanker Blog » Is Teacher Attrition Actually Increasing?:

Is Teacher Attrition Actually Increasing?

Posted by  on June 12, 2014
Over the past few years, one can find a regular flow of writing attempting to explain the increase in teacher attrition. Usually, these explanations come in the form of advocacy – that is, people who don’t like a given policy or policies assert that they are the reasons for the rise in teachers leaving. Putting aside that these arguments are usually little more than speculation, as well as the fact that they often rely on highly limited approaches to measuring attrition (e.g., teacher experience distributions), there is a prior issue that must be addressed here: Is teacher attrition really increasing?
The short answer, at least at the national level and over the longer term, is yes, but, as usual, it’s more complicated than a simple yes/no answer.
Obviously, not all attrition is “bad,” as it depends on who’s leaving, but any attempt to examine levels of or trends in teacher attrition (leaving the profession) or mobility (switching schools) requires good data. When looking at individual districts, one often must rely on administrative datasets that make it very difficult to determine whether teachers left the profession entirely or simply moved to another district (though remember that whether teachers leave the profession or simply switch schools doesn’t really matter to individual schools, since they must replace the teachers regardless). In addition, the phenomenon of teachers leaving for a temporary period and then returning (e.g., after childbirth) is more common than many people realize.
The only national source of good data on teacher attrition (and mobility) is the Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS), which is administered every four years to a nationally representative sub-sample of educators from the Schools and Staffing Survey. The last administration of the TFS was in 2008-09. Let’s take a very quick look at the trends over the past 20 years (for a deeper look at the 2008-09 data, see this post).
The simple graph below presents the percentage of public school teachers, in each year, who left the profession (“leavers”) or switched schools (“movers”), along with the total of the two rates (“total turnover”). Notice how the range of the vertical axis is only 0-18 percent, which means that small changes might appear a bit larger than they would using a wider range.
You can see that the mover rate is relatively flat – roughly 7-8 percent in each year. There was, however, a considerable rise in the leaver rate between 1991-92 and 2004-05 – about three percentage points. The change is statistically significant and educationally meaningful.
Why did the leaver rate increase during this time? One plausible explanation would be increasing retirements among baby boomer teachers. This seems to have made a difference, but, judging by the TFS breakdown by reasons for Shanker Blog » Is Teacher Attrition Actually Increasing?: