Researchers at the University of Virginia and Northwestern University have found another wrinkle to add to the problem of teacher retention: Male teachers are leaving schools with female principals.
The researchers analyzed New York state teacher retention data over a 40-year period, from the 1969-79 school year through 2009-10. In total, the data set included about 650,000 teachers and about 6,400 schools.
They found that male teachers were 12 percent more likely to leave their school if the principal was a woman than if the principal was a man. By contrast, women were equally as likely to leave under a female or male principal. The researchers estimated that most of these exits were voluntary, rather than the result of firing, due to the low rate of teacher dismissal nationwide.
The results did show some differences in male teacher retention over time and place. Compared to areas with lower than average female workforce participation, male teachers in places where more women worked were less likely to leave a school with a female principal. And men in the 1970s and ‘80s were more likely to leave a woman-led school than men in the ‘90s and early 2000s.
Even so, this gender-based preference persisted well into the 21st century. The researchers also examined transfer requests from 2005-2013, and found that male teachers were more likely to ask to work at a school with a male principal.
Why Male Teachers Leave
Why do male teachers want to work under men? The available data can’t offer clear-cut answers yet, said Aliza Husain, the lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. “Even though we do see these findings, we don’t have a lot of leverage to figure out the mechanisms.”
Still, the researchers suggested two possible causes: bias and preferential treatment.
Nationally, Americans show a preference for male leadership: Research has shown that workers have a bias against female leaders, said Husain. Over the time period that the data spans, respondents to an annual national Gallup poll consistently said that they preferred working for a male boss. (This may be changing—for the first time last year, the majority of respondents to the poll said that they didn’t have a preference for the gender of their boss.)
The study also found that male principals may give male teachers more favorable treatment. Men in the study earned 1.2 percent less under female principals than they did under male school leaders, which worked out to about $835 annually, and they were less likely to be promoted to principal. Both of these effects are too small to be driving teachers’ job decisions alone, the researchers write, but they could suggest differences in work environments that vary by the gender of the principal at the school.
More research is needed to determine why male teachers leave woman-led schools, Husain said, and which teachers are leaving. The effect is especially troubling, she said, if it’s causing good teachers to abandon their classrooms.
In a female-dominated profession, recruiting and retaining male teachers is also an issue of representation. Advocates have argued that male teachers, especially men of color, can be important role models for students.
If the effect stems from female principals giving women preferential treatment, schools may need mentoring for male teachers—similar to the networks that male-dominated professions have established for women, the researchers write.
But if men are leaving schools because they don’t want to work for a woman, then it might be necessary for districts to provide training that addresses male teachers’ biases, the researchers argue.
Even in the 21st century, the researchers write, “resistance from subordinates presents an ongoing challenge to female leadership.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.