This article was originally published in Education Week.
Ninety-three percent of teachers reported satisfaction with their jobs 10 years after entering the field, according to a new survey that also found attrition rates for teachers were actually lower than for other professionals.
The report, released this week by the National Center for Education Statistics, surveyed 9,000 graduates who received their bachelor’s degrees in various disciplines in the 1992-93 school year. Nearly 20 percent of those graduates entered the teaching profession.
The findings from the survey debunk several long-held views on teacher pay, turnover, and job satisfaction. For instance, it found that only 18 percent of those who entered teaching changed occupations within four years of getting a degree. Given that other professions experienced attrition rates between 17 percent and 75 percent during that period, the number of career-switchers from teaching was on the low end of the scale, according to the data. More than half those who became teachers were still teaching 10 years later.
Teacher advocates and unions have long claimed that turnover among new teachers ranges from 30 percent to 50 percent within the first five years.
“The take for a long time was that there is this incredibly high attrition among teachers from schools,” said Mark Schneider, the commissioner of NCES, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education. The report, he said, shows that teacher-turnover rates are actually lower than those in other professions.
“I understand why schools and school districts are upset about losing teachers, but it is part of the normal sorting process” in a dynamic job market, Mr. Schneider added.
The survey also stands on their head some commonly held beliefs about teacher salaries. Teachers’ unions have often cited low pay as a major reason for teacher dissatisfaction. But only 13 percent of those who left teaching by 2003 gave it as the reason for leaving. Forty-eight percent of those who remained in the profession said they were satisfied with their salaries.
Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group in Washington, called the findings “explosive.”
“What was surprising is how cheery the [teachers’] responses were,” she said. Education groups, including the unions, she contended, often cite teachers’ unhappiness in order to pressure districts and states for concessions.
Spokesmen for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers said they were unable to comment on the report before the story was posted.
The report’s findings are based on the NCES’ survey of baccalaureate-degree recipients conducted between 1993 and 2003. Participants answered questions via phone and the Internet and during in-person interviews. The report was prepared by MPR Associates in Berkeley, Calif.
Of those surveyed who were still teaching 10 years after earning their degrees, 90 percent said they would choose the same career again, and 67 percent said they would remain in teaching for the rest of their working lives.
The rate among African-American teachers, however, was significantly lower, with 37 percent saying they would choose to remain in the profession, compared with 70 percent of white teachers.
Nearly 20 percent of black teachers said they would leave if something better came along, compared with fewer than 10 percent of white teachers.
Ms. Walsh said the higher rates of dissatisfaction among black teachers could be due to the fact that more black teachers teach in high-poverty schools.
The study reaffirmed that attrition rates were higher among male teachers. While women (29 percent) were more likely to leave for family-related reasons, men (32 percent) usually left for a job outside the field of education.
A candidate’s age when he or she attended college also appeared to play a role in attrition rates: Those 30 or older when they obtained their degrees were more likely than younger graduates to remain in teaching.
Those who earned better grades in college were more likely than those with lower grades to remain in teaching.
The study offers a window into how college graduates perceive teaching. For instance, nearly half of all bachelor’s degree recipients in 1992-93 said they had never considered teaching or taken any steps to become educators.
Lack of interest, having another job in hand, and inadequate pay were the most commonly cited reasons for not pursuing teaching.
Math, science, and engineering graduates were among those most likely to leave teaching jobs to work outside education.