With Support, Teachers Would Stay Put, Report Finds

By Julie Blair — February 05, 2003 2 min read

America’s schools could slash teacher turnover by at least 50 percent by 2006 if federal, state, and local policymakers worked to ensure that educators are well trained and supported in their professional lives, a report released last week by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future concludes.

The report, “No Dream Denied: A Pledge to America’s Children,” is available from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.) Printed copies, beginning at $10, can be ordered online or by calling (202) 416-6181.

Providing teachers with high- quality instruction, meaningful induction programs, opportunities to advance their careers, and small, professional communities in which to work is the key to retention, the report says. Higher salaries are important, too, it says, in a field that paid beginning teachers an average of $28,986 during the 2000-01 school year, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

The privately organized, Washington-based nonprofit group—made up of educators, policymakers, and business leaders—aims to ensure that well-qualified teachers staff the country’s classrooms.

More Out Than In

Teacher turnover is a huge problem and the root cause of teacher shortages, said Thomas G. Carroll, the executive director of the commission. Many, however, erroneously blame such shortages on a lack of teachers produced by colleges and other teacher-training programs, he said.

From 1984 to 1999, for example, the annual number of new graduates from education programs increased 50 percent, to 220,000 annually, according to the study. Of those, 85,000 were hired by schools. And yet, one year later, more than 287,000 teachers overall quit their jobs—a loss of 24 percent.

While some educators cite retirement as the reason for their departures, a majority are changing schools or leaving the field altogether because of poor working conditions and insufficient wages, the report says.

“It’s not that we have too few teachers entering our schools; it’s that too many are leaving,” Mr. Carroll said.

Moreover, teacher turnover is expensive for both the school systems that pay to recruit and train teachers and for the students who must attend schools with unstable staffs, said Richard M. Ingersoll, an associate professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania who analyzed the federal data used in the report.

“There’s this assumption that teachers are expendable,” he said. “No one pays attention to the costs.”