Science, Math Teachers No More Apt To Abandon Jobs Than Other Teachers

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WASHINGTON--Science and mathematics teachers, often portrayed as especially prone to abandon the classroom for more lucrative job opportunities, are no more likely to leave the profession than are teachers of other subjects, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.

While the overall attrition rate for public-school teachers between 1987-88 and 1988-89 was 5.6 percent, the attrition rate was 4.9 percent for mathematics teachers and 5.4 percent for science teachers, states the report, "Characteristics of Stayers, Movers, and Leavers: Results from the Teacher Followup Survey, 1988-89," released this summer.

A follow-up to the statistics center's Schools and Staffing Survey, the report is based on responses from 7,172 teachers.

A teacher's primary subject matter appears to have little bearing on whether he or she continues teaching in public schools, the study suggests. Only educators of the mentally retarded, it says, depart in significantly greater proportions than other teachers do.

A similar pattern emerged for private-school teachers, whose overall attrition rate was 12.7 percent.

Somewhat Surprising

Sharon A. Bobbitt, a statistician for the N.C.E.S., characterized the math and science attrition rate as "somewhat surprising" given the anecdotal evidence about attractive job opportunities for individuals with expertise in those fields.

The data also indicate that private-school teachers are far more likely to leave education entirely than are their counterparts in the public schools. More than one-third of the former private-school teachers surveyed were working outside of education, compared with 17.8 percent of the former public-school teachers.

Yet, a greater proportion of public-school teachers, 13.4 percent, cited pursuit of another career as the main reason they left their jobs, in contrast to 10.6 percent of private-school teachers.

Although subject matter apparently made little difference, a teacher's years of experience did, according to the data. The attrition rate for elementary and secondary teachers tended to be highest among those who were less experienced and, presumably, were younger.

Nearly 30 percent of the public-school teachers who quit had taught three years or less. Almost 50 percent of the private-school teachers who left did so during the first three years of teaching.

Unhappy With Administration

Retirement and family obligations were the predominant reasons teachers gave for leaving the profession.

Twenty-two percent of the public-school teachers had retired, while 18.9 percent said pregnancy and child-rearing had taken them away from teaching.

About one-fifth of the public-school teachers, however, indicated that they planned to return to elementary or secondary classrooms in 1989-90.

Over all, respondents from both sectors cited inadequate support from the administration as the chief cause of their dissatisfaction with teaching.

Other Factors

The two groups differed, however, in their second most often cited reason for dissatisfication. Surprisingly, the private-school teachers named student-discipline problems second, ranking it even higher than poor salary.

Public-school teachers, however, ranked student discipline much lower, citing poor student motivation to learn as the second biggest reason for their dissatisfaction.

Only 8.9 percent of public-school teachers and 6.6 percent of private-school teachers said they left because they were dissatisfied with teaching as a career.

Sixty-four percent of the teachers who remained, 61 percent of those who changed schools, and 46 percent of those who quit cited salary and benefits as the most effective retention tool.

Additional information can be obtained from the N.C.E.S., U.S. Education Department, 555 New Jersey Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20208-5651.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 19

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Science, Math Teachers No More Apt To Abandon Jobs Than Other Teachers
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