Teacher Turnover and the Disruption of Teacher Staffing

Helen Ladd and Lucy Sorensen, writing for the Brookings blog, recently explored the concerns associated with within-school turnover, focusing on the churn in middle school core subject areas. Excerpts from their piece appear below:

We draw on a recent paper in which we examined how middle schools in North Carolina responded to changes in the rates of turnover of their math and English language arts (ELA) teachers in grades six, seven, and eight from 1998 to 2016.

The evidence is clear that higher teacher turnover leads to higher proportions of teachers with limited experience, lateral entry teachers, or those with provisional licenses. The increased reliance on lateral entry teachers or those with provisional licenses was particularly evident among schools with large concentrations of low-performing students or high rates of poverty. We found no differential responses across urban and rural schools, or schools categorized by their geographic distances to the nearest teacher education program.  

Somewhat less consistent evidence suggests that schools also respond by hiring teachers with lower licensure scores or by increasing the proportions of teachers teaching out of subject. We find essentially no evidence that middle school administrators in North Carolina respond to teacher turnover in their schools by increasing class sizes. That is not surprising given that math and ELA are core subjects with state end-of-grade tests and that the state has maximum course size regulations.

Our empirical findings highlight three potential mechanisms through which high rates of teacher turnover may adversely affect the joint capacity of teachers within a middle school. First, the resulting higher proportions of teachers with weak qualifications are likely to reduce the quality of teaching, and, as shown in prior studies, to reduce student achievement. Second, the influx of new and inexperienced teachers is likely to be disruptive and could interfere with the development of a coherent curriculum. Lastly, the compositional change is likely to increase turnover in subsequent years because of the greater proclivity of novice teachers and alternatively certified teachers to leave schools.

The potential for higher subsequent turnover strengthens the case for policymakers to address directly the challenges posed by high teacher turnover rather than focusing only on longer-term strategies designed to improve the quality of the overall teacher labor force. One strategy for reducing the probability of high rates of teacher turnover is to improve school working conditions by raising the quality of a school’s leadership or providing differential pay for teachers to remain in hard-to-staff schools or subjects. A complementary strategy would be to adopt policies designed to make schools more resilient to the loss of teachers, like enhancing the teacher pipeline for such schools and providing strong mentorship programs for early career teachers. While those policies might also help reduce overall teacher shortages, their main goal would be to reduce high rates of teacher turnover within individual schools and thereby to enhance the quality of those schools.

For more, see https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/04/29/teacher-turnover-and-the-disruption-of-teacher-staffing/

For the original study, see https://caldercenter.org/sites/default/files/CALDER%20WP%20203-0918-1.pdf