K-12 Teacher Webinar - Understanding Teacher Retention in US Schools

November 15, 2022

young teacher writes on the chalkboard

Schools nationwide are facing teacher retention challenges alongside the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but who is it affecting the most? Which teachers leave and why do they leave? In the second K-12 webinar series on teacher shortage, Dr. Matthew Shirrell, Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and Administration, explores the reasons behind teacher retention challenges and the potential solutions.

Why should we care about teacher retention? There are 3 main costs: 1. Instructional costs, 2. Organizational costs, 3. Financial costs. Instructionally, research shows that students learn less in school districts with high turnover. The organizational costs are lack of continuity, cohesion, and momentum for initiatives. The financial costs are in recruiting, hiring, and training replacements. 

When thinking about teacher retention, we have to think about the different kinds of mobility. The first level is school-level turnover, the second is district-level turnover, the third level is state-level, and finally there’s attrition level; people leaving teaching entirely and going to work in another occupation. The important thing to remember is that it depends on who you’re talking to. 

Data shows that overall in public schools, about 84% of teachers remain in the same school. 8% move to teach at another school, and 8% leave teaching altogether in any given year. Of those 8% we’re generally concerned about leaving, about 40% of that group is retiring, 30% are still in the education field but in a non-teaching position, and then 30% are leaving the education field entirely. Those people are who we’re most concerned about leaving. 

Why do teachers leave? There are a multitude of reasons such as school-based working conditions and compensation. Potential solutions to help teacher retention challenges include improving school leadership, differentiating pay, focusing on novice teachers, and focusing on safety.

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