Long Commutes Seen Influencing Teacher Job Choices

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A new report highlights a big reason teachers may be leaving urban schools: They want to work closer to home.

The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University, in California, and the State University of New York at Albany, is based on five years of data on all teachers who began their careers in New York City public schools between the 1995-96 and 2001-02 school years.

Echoing previous studies, the researchers found that much of the high teacher-turnover rate in New York City’s central-city schools is caused by teachers’ migration to higher-achieving schools or by white and Hispanic teachers’ departures for schools with higher percentages of white students. The new wrinkle in the study is that the geographic proximity of teachers’ schools to their homes may be just as key a factor in their decisions to change schools.

The researchers found, for example, that teachers who are not New York City residents are five times more likely than residents to transfer to teaching jobs outside the city, both after the first year of teaching and in subsequent years. Among city residents teaching in the public schools, the teachers working farthest from their homes were also the most likely to leave.

“This suggests that one of the reasons teacher-attrition rates may be high in inner-city schools may be because they import so many teachers,” said Susanna Loeb, one of four authors of the new study, which is scheduled to be published in May in the journal American Economics Review.

“But it also points to the benefits of trying to grow your own teachers or attract people from the same area into teaching,” added Ms. Loeb, an associate education professor at Stanford. Her Albany co-authors on the study are Donald J. Boyd, the deputy director of the university’s Center on Public Policy; Hamilton Lankford, an economics professor; and James H. Wyckoff, a professor of public policy.

Top Teachers Leaving

The study is among several recent reports to examine the exodus of early-career teachers from urban schools, which have the greatest need for skilled teachers. ("Teacher Turnover Tracked in City District," Feb. 23, 2005.) In New York City, for instance, 27 percent of first-year teachers do not return the following year. Those exit rates are particularly high, the new study found, for teachers who scored highest on the general-knowledge portion of their certification exams. The study shows they often leave for schools in which students’ exam scores are higher.

Geographic proximity of schools to teachers’ homes can be particularly important, though, in a school system such as New York’s, where 34 percent of all newly certified teachers live outside the city. Among the teachers scoring in the top 25 percent on their certification exams, a group that could arguably be called the city’s most qualified teachers, 38 percent reside outside New York City.

Ms. Loeb said the new findings mirror the research group’s earlier findings on new teachers’ career decisions. In those studies, focusing on where teachers began their careers, the researchers found that teachers seek out schools that are either close to home or similar to those where they went to high school.

Vol. 24, Issue 25, Page 10

Published in Print: March 2, 2005, as Long Commutes Seen Influencing Teacher Job Choices
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The article gave incorrect information on the turnover rate among first-year teachers in New York City public schools. In the lowest-performing schools, 27 percent leave; in the highest-performing schools, the rate is 15 percent.

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