School & District Management

Study Finds Late-Hired Teachers Likely to Leave

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 15, 2011 5 min read
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Teachers hired after the start of the school year are twice as likely to leave their schools—or the profession altogether—within a year, leading to higher staffing costs for districts that delay their hiring, according to a statewide study of teachers in Michigan.

In what is believed to be the first study to connect teacher turnover to the timing of teachers’ hiring, researchers from Michigan State University, in East Lansing, and Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., used Michigan’s state longitudinal personnel database to study 9,306 core academic teachers hired at more than 5,000 schools statewide between 2003-04 and 2007-08.

The study, presented at the annual Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness meeting in Washington this month, found 12 percent of those teachers started work at least once after class had already begun for the year.

Among those late hires, 22.5 percent left their schools the following year, compared with 13.4 percent of teachers hired to start on time, and 14.2 percent of late-hired instructors left teaching altogether the next year, compared with 6.8 percent of on-time hires. Among first-year teachers, more than 35 percent of late hires left the school the following year, compared with 20 percent of on-time hires.

Eric Guthertz, the principal of Mission High School in San Francisco, has seen that problem firsthand. Five years ago, his 859-student school saw 10 new teachers a year out of a staff of only 67, and California’s budget troubles exacerbated hiring delays.

“It could be pretty huge, depending on the year,” Mr. Guthertz said. “Really, with the climate of the economy, you don’t necessarily know whose layoffs are getting rescinded so you can get them back into the classroom, and refilling that position can take a while.”

Cost of Delays

That’s not uncommon, said Erin Grogan, a postdoctoral fellow in education policy at Michigan State University and a co-author of the new study. Reasons for hiring delays are legion: midyear turnover, volatile district enrollment and budget numbers, extended transfer windows for other district teachers, and so on. Yet research shows that turnover costs a school from $5,000 to $18,000 per teacher, so the increased instability of late-hired teachers can jack up staffing costs for the schools involved.

“There is a strong relation between late hiring and labor-market moves, and turnover is not an inexpensive proposition for schools and districts,” Ms. Grogan said. She noted even at high-performing or other desirable schools, teachers who arrived late were more likely to leave their schools early.

“To the extent possible,” she said, “limiting late hires, and thus turnover, would be a good strategy.”

Though Michigan schools have different schedules and starting dates, about 7 percent of schools hired at least one teacher more than a week after Labor Day, when all schools are expected to be open; of those schools, just under 2 percent of that group hired three or more teachers late.

A Matter of Timing

A study of public schools across Michigan found that, regardless of the achievement levels of socioeconomic status of the schools, teachers who were hired late were twice as likely to have left the job by the next year.

BRIC ARCHIVE

SOURCE: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness presentation

Urban, low-performing, and high-minority schools were more likely to experience hiring delays. The researchers found that 16 percent of teachers hired on time worked in urban schools, versus 30 percent of late-hired educators.

Late-hired teachers were more likely to have a minority background and to be hired part time. Overall, teachers hired after the start of school were more often experienced teachers, rather than those just out of college.

Ms. Grogan said those estimates are likely to be low-balling the problem somewhat, because they do not account for teachers hired before Labor Day, yet after an early-starting school’s first day.

The study represents the first direct look at the effect of delayed hiring on teachers’ willingness to stay in the school, but Ms. Grogan said an assumption aired in earlier studies, issued by the New Teacher Project—that late-hired teachers are of lower quality—could be a factor in teachers’ transience.

Most prior research has focused on whether hiring delays led principals to hire lower-quality teachers. In the mid-2000s, the research conversation around the timing of personnel hiring was sparked by a series of reports by the New Teacher Project, a New York City-based nonprofit group that works to help districts scale up programs to improve teacher quality.

Less Qualified?

The project’s reports suggested that applicants who withdrew from urban-district hiring pools had higher college grade point averages, and were more likely to go on to be teaching in their fields of specialty, than those who were eventually hired.

However, a nationally representative study in 2009 by Mimi G. Engel, an assistant professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, in Nashville, Tenn., found no difference in quality or credentials between teachers hired in late summer or after the start of school and those hired earlier.

In related interviews, though, Ms. Engel found principals hired in part based on teacher-candidates’ classroom-management skills, and here they felt late-hired instructors were less well prepared.

“Principals kind of felt they had slim pickings, a more limited candidate pool for the late hires,” Ms. Engel said.

Because supports are scarce for teachers new to the school but not to the teaching profession, the “late is less” view may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Whether or not we can find this association between timing and quality,” Ms. Engel said, “if [teachers] felt stigmatized and, particularly for new teachers, if they didn’t get that induction and orientation, their support system might not be in place.

“The combination of missing out on those things,” she said, “is going to make teachers feel less oriented and ready to go, and is going to interfere with instructional time.”

Even when they do stay, teachers hired late may not catch up instructionally with their colleagues hired on time, according to a report released last year by the Strategic Data Project at Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research. That study, of teachers in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, found that the 16 percent of teachers hired in 2007-08 after the school year began performed worse than other teachers, not just in that year but also through their fifth year on the job.

Venessa A. Keesler, Michigan’s manager of evaluation research and accountability, said the state was considering how to respond to improve retention but was pleased by the study, which was commissioned by the Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest.

But some groups have started to look at ways to prevent the late-hire teacher churn. The New Teacher Project’s Model Staffing Initiative works in nine districts nationwide to improve district and school personnel practices in schools, such as Mission High, that are considered both high-need and hard to staff, said Jamey Roberts, a partner at the project. After five years with the initiative, Mission High had only one late hire last year—and no turnover this year.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2011 edition of Education Week as Study Finds Higher Turnover Among Teachers Hired Late

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