School & District Management

Study Finds Chicago Teachers on the Move

By Debra Viadero — June 29, 2009 2 min read
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A report out this morning from the Consortium on Chicago School Research documents teacher-turnover rates in Chicago’s public schools. It finds that on average 51 percent of the teachers working in the city’s elementary schools in 2002 had left four years later. In the typical Chicago high school, the study found that 54 percent had left by 2006.

These turnover rates are not any worse than they are in the rest of Illinois or across the nation. Likewise, a lot of those teachers were just moving to other city schools and not leaving the profession altogether.

But they give pause, nonetheless. When teachers leave their jobs in such high numbers, principals have to spend a lot of time and energy recruiting and breaking in their replacements and students’ learning can suffer.

What’s more, at least 100 of the 656 elementary and high schools that the researchers studied suffer from chronically high turnover rates, which means they lose a quarter or more of their teaching staff each year. Unfortunately, these tend to be the same schools that struggle the most with low student achievement, according to the authors.

In keeping with some other studies on teacher turnover, the researchers report that particularly high turnover rates in Chicago seemed to be linked to poorer workplace conditions. In the schools with the best workplace conditions, an average of only 10 percent of teachers leave each year.

The vast differences in teacher mobility across the city’s schools, the authors say, perpetuate inequities in hard-to-staff schools. They write:

Many schools are likely stuck in a cycle of teacher loss that is hard to break—teachers leave because of poor school climate and low achievement, but these are hard to improve when there is a constant turnover of teachers each year.

So how do you know good workplace conditions when you see them? In Chicago, the consortium researchers say, the key characteristics seem to be a strong sense of collective responsibility and innovation. Teachers in those schools are also more likely to report that they trust their principal and view him or her as an instructional leader.

In contrast, high rates of student misbehavior, for example, correspond to higher teacher-exodus rates in high schools. Curiously, the small schools also had higher teacher-mobility rates than the city’s larger schools.

There’s lot more to chew over in the findings. The full study, called “The Schools Teachers Leave: Teacher Mobility Rates in Chicago Public Schools,” was posted online today on the consortium’s Web site. The lead author is Elaine Allensworth, who is now the consortium’s interim executive director.

PERSONNEL POSTSCRIPT: Were you wondering whether former consortium director John Q. Easton would be taking any of the CCSR staff with him to his new gig at the federal Institute of Education Sciences? It turns out he is. Tracy Dell’Angela, the consortium’s senior manager of outreach and publications, will be joining IES in late July as director of outreach and communications. A former Chicago Tribune reporter, Tracy has been with the University of Chicago-based consortium since 2007.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.