Recruitment & Retention

Calif. Study Shows Progress In Retaining New Teachers

By Lynn Olson — October 23, 2002 3 min read
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More than eight in 10 newly licensed teachers in California are still in the classroom four years later, according to a report released this month by Gov. Gray Davis.

Read the “Preliminary Report on Teacher Retention in California,” from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The study, which provides the first solid data on the teacher-retention rate in the nation’s biggest state, tracked individuals who earned their preliminary teaching credentials during fiscal year 1995-96.

It did not, however, include teachers with waivers or emergency credentials, or “pre- interns” and “interns” who are still in the process of earning preliminary certification. Those omissions led some experts to question the report’s completeness.

But state officials hailed the findings as evidence that California’s multifaceted efforts to attract and keep more teachers in the classroom are working.

“This is really fabulous news,” said state Secretary of Education Kerry Mazzoni. “It shows that our efforts over the past several years ... are paying off, and they’re paying off with a big dividend.”

Kerry Mazzoni

Since the mid-1990s, the state has paid for an aggressive package of incentives to hold on to its teachers. Those include tax credits based on years of service, grants to low-performing schools to help recruit and retain qualified educators, an induction program, bonuses for veteran educators who earn national certification, and more money for professional development.

Nationally, estimates are that 67 percent of first-year teachers remain in the classroom after four years. But those estimates, based on data from a 1994-95 federal survey, include both individuals with regular teaching certificates, those with less-than-standard certificates, and those with no certificates at all.

‘Apples and Oranges’

“It’s a little bit apples and oranges,” Richard M. Ingersoll, an associate professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who computed the national estimate, said of that figure and the data from the California officials. “They’re only looking at part of the pool, and they’re looking at the part of the pool that most likely has better retention.”

Based on his most recent calculations, Mr. Ingersoll added, California probably does have “better-than-average retention rates, just probably not quite as good as they’re asserting.”

The study, released Oct. 10, was conducted by the state’s teacher-credentialing and employment-development agencies, which matched teachers’ credential information with wage-employment data over a four- year period.

Of the 14,643 individuals earning new California teaching credentials during 1995-96, more than 13,000 became employed in California public schools within a year, the results show. Ninety-four percent remained in public education after their first year on the job, and 84 percent were still in the public schools after four years.

“From our standpoint, this is definitely a groundbreaking study,” said Dale Janssen, the director of certification for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. “Up to this time, there has not really been solid data that would support what the retention [rate] is in California.”

The results could help policymakers make more accurate estimates of how many new teachers will be needed, he said. By one estimate, California will have to hire at least 195,000 new teachers by the end of this decade. “I think this is information that they will be able to use to recalculate that,” Mr. Janssen said.

But the study did not address whether turnover rates are worse at schools serving large populations of poor and minority students. Analyses of federal data by Mr. Ingersoll have found that high-poverty public schools have far higher turnover rates than do more affluent schools.

“That’s a factor the commission has indicated to the staff it would like to look at, but right now, we don’t have the data disaggregated in that respect,” said Alan D. Bersin, the chairman of the commission and the superintendent of the San Diego public schools.

Margaret Gaston, a co- director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit group based in Santa Cruz, Calif., praised state officials for beginning to collect better data. But she cautioned that the statewide “persistence” rate “masks the maldistribution of teachers across the state.”

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