Recruitment & Retention

Oft-Cited Statistic Likely Inaccurate

By Bess Keller — June 12, 2007 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“About half of all new teachers leave the profession after just five years on the job.”

-The Plain Dealer, Dec. 3, 2006

It’s a neat and memorable statistic that’s been repeatedly cited by news reporters, advocacy groups, union officials, and state education departments, among others.

Trouble is, it is arguable and often used misleadingly.

Richard M. Ingersoll, the University of Pennsylvania professor whose calculation was first rounded up to the “half” figure in a 2003 report, sticks to upwards of 40 percent. Other scholars, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University, say the most defensible estimate is about a third. Some of the difference between the figures is accounted for by teachers who leave and return to the profession.

See Also

Return to the main story,

Gone After Five Years? Think Again

New studies of state rather than national retention suggest even a third might be high. Just 22 percent of California teachers left for good in their first four (rather than five) years, and in Illinois the figure was 27 percent in five years.

Second, the figure is rarely presented in context, often because it is being used to incite alarm. Teacher turnover is roughly in line with that in other professions with similar educational requirements for entry, such as nursing and accounting. And that is so even with the pressure on school districts to get rid of teachers in their first two or three years before tenure protections make it more difficult.

Most worrisome about the 50 percent figure, though, may be the way it obscures the damage done to some schools—typically those serving poor and minority children—from teachers’ switching schools. Evidence suggests that teachers are more likely to leave high-poverty, high-minority, and low-performing schools than schools without those characteristics, although working conditions, not the characteristics themselves, may be mostly to blame. (A significant exception found by researcher Eric A. Hanushek and others he worked with is that black and Hispanic teachers are not more likely to leave schools with higher proportions of students in those same groups. Minority teachers, however, are in short supply.) According to Mr. Ingersoll, in the 2000-01 school year, low-poverty schools turned over between 11 percent and 16 percent of their teachers annually, while high-poverty urban schools had to replace between 19 percent and 26 percent.

Vacancies in high-poverty schools tend to be filled by brand-new teachers—who because of their inexperience are less effective than the teachers who left. Plus, the churn disrupts the schools’ chance to build strong teaching teams. For those reasons, teaching in the most challenged schools, where the best educators are most needed, is often weakest.

“Broad-brush, statewide strategies to reduce attrition are not the answer” to raising teacher quality, summed up the authors of the Illinois study, echoing a growing number of experts. “We need targeted, school-by-school approaches that involve teachers, parents, and principals to create more positive school environments that are more conducive to teaching and learning.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2007 edition of Education Week as Oft-Cited Statistic Likely Inaccurate

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Building Teacher Capacity for Social-Emotional Learning
Set goals that support adult well-being and social-emotional learning: register today!


Content provided by Panorama
Jobs October 2021 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Recruitment & Retention From Our Research Center How Bad Are School Staffing Shortages? What We Learned by Asking Administrators
More than two-thirds of administrators say they're telling existing staff to take on additional responsibilities.
2 min read
In this April 17, 2020, file photo dormant school buses are secured at a facility in Tempe, Ariz. Planning is underway to prepare for reopening Arizona's public schools in the next school year and the state's top education official says the resulting decisions that will be made and the guidance provided to local districts won't come too soon. Some districts start their school years as early as mid-July, with most others following in August, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman told KJZZ.
More than two-thirds of school district leaders and principals say they're having trouble hiring enough bus drivers this school year, according to a new EdWeek Research Center survey on staffing shortages.
Matt York/AP
Recruitment & Retention Letter to the Editor The Pandemic Isn’t the Only Reason For School Staffing Shortages
States must dig deeper than superficial-level explanations if they're serious about staffing shortages, writes an educator.
1 min read
Recruitment & Retention 'No Respect and No Support': K-12 Workers Explain Why Schools Struggle With Staffing
Bus drivers, custodians, and other school employees share stories of low pay, meager benefits, minimal respect, and dangerous conditions.
5 min read
A "Bus Drivers Wanted" sign is shown Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Sandy, Utah. A shortage of bus drivers is complicating the start of a new school year already facing a surge in COVID-19 cases and conflicts over whether masks should be required in school buildings.
A "Bus Drivers Wanted" sign is shown Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Sandy, Utah. A shortage of bus drivers is complicating the start of a new school year already facing a surge in COVID-19 cases and conflicts over whether masks should be required in school buildings.
Rick Bowmer/AP
Recruitment & Retention No Bus Drivers, Custodians, or Subs. What's Really Behind Schools' Staffing Shortages?
Dismal pay, certification requirements, and longstanding disrespect are causing many classified workers to quit.
10 min read
Rycc Smith welcomes Montello Elementary School students as they board his bus outside the Lewiston, Maine school after the first day back in nearly a month on Jan. 21, 2021. The entire school district switched to all remote learning after an uptick in COVID-19 cases last month.
Rycc Smith welcomes Montello Elementary School students as they board his bus outside the Lewiston, Maine school after the first day back in nearly a month on Jan. 21, 2021. The entire school district switched to all remote learning after an uptick in COVID-19 cases last month.
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal via AP