Recruitment & Retention

How Can Schools Keep Educators From Leaving? Teacher Retention Looms Large at SXSW EDU

By Sarah Schwartz — March 01, 2023 3 min read
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The annual SXSW EDU conference centers on “innovation” in education—discussions about emerging technology, new ways of approaching equity and inclusion, and efforts to advance instructional practice in schools are all on the agenda for the Austin, Texas-based education event, starting March 6.

But all this innovation requires one key component to bring it to life—educators.

Recruiting and retaining K-12 educators, and making sure they’re happy in their jobs, is the theme of many panels and presentations at this year’s conference.

This focus comes after a few of the most disruptive years in education in recent history.

Months of disrupted learning and remote teaching brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic put heavy burdens on classroom teachers. Principals and district leaders faced the logistics of reopening school buildings, quarantines, and safety and health procedures—and the challenge of communicating these updates to often divided communities.

At the same time, parent campaigns to ban school library books and new laws restricting how teachers can discuss race and gender have created a political minefield for classroom teachers and school and district leaders alike to navigate.

At SXSW EDU, presenters will address these complex challenges. Panels cover keeping teachers in the classroom, hiring more teachers of color, and investigating the shifting role of district superintendents.

Read on for the highlights from some of Education Week’s recent coverage of recruitment and retention—for teachers, principals, and school superintendents.

Teachers: Higher pay would keep more teachers in the classroom. But it’s not the only factor

Survey data from the EdWeek Research Center show that better compensation would prevent teachers from quitting. But how that compensation is offered matters.

Teachers’ top choice would be salary increases that exceed the cost of living. Reductions in other expenses such as health-care costs, or one-off bonuses, are less popular options.

The average teacher salary is $61,600, according to the National Education Association. But that number varies considerably depending on geographic location. In Mississippi, for instance, teachers only make an average of $46,862. It’s much higher in New York, where the average salary is $90,222.

Recently, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced plans to introduce legislation that would mandate a national $60,000 minimum base salary for teachers.

Still, other components of working conditions matter to teachers, too. Some districts are conducting “stay interviews”—conversations with employees they don’t want to lose—to figure out what those factors are that would keep these people in the classroom.

Principals: One study showed that school leaders are leaving. Still, it doesn’t necessarily represent a trend

About 16 percent of principals left their jobs during the 2021-22 academic year, according to a recent research brief from the RAND Corp. Other surveys have found that more principals say they’re planning to leave soon.

But researchers say that it’s not necessarily the case that the profession is on the brink of a mass resignation. It’s possible that some of this turnover was the result of delayed retirements during the pandemic years, they say. (For more on this survey, see this story.)

How can districts retain principals? Just as with teachers, pay plays a role. But researchers with the George W. Bush Institute found in a recent study that even principals who were dissatisfied with their pay would stay in schools where they felt a connection to the community.

The same study also found that improving professional development and school climate and culture supported principal retention.

Superintendents: School boards are trying to woo leaders in turbulent times

Turnover for school system leaders is uneven—it’s more frequent in urban districts. And one analysis found that it disproportionately affects women leaders. As superintendents left districts, this report from the strategy and policy firm ILO Group found, their replacements tended to be men—exacerbating the already wide gender gaps in the field.

In attempts to retain superintendents through the past few turbulent years, school boards have been offering contracts with higher salaries, longer terms, and better perks—like sabbaticals and wellness days.

Still, some superintendents say that the intangibles are what keep them in the role. Having productive relations with the school board and a supportive community make the job much easier, they say, especially in a tense political environment.

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