Busting myths about teacher attrition

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A study out of the CALDER Center brings some fresh thinking to the issue of teacher attrition. University of Washington researcher Dan Goldhaber and colleagues turn upside down current assumptions explaining which teachers leave the workforce, presenting evidence that the most effective teachers not only stay in the profession longer, they also tend to stay in the toughest schools.

We already know that academically stronger teachers are more likely to leave the profession, but standard measures of teachers' academic ability are limited in what they tell us about us teacher effectiveness. What's new about this research is that Goldhaber et al. provide a more direct and precise measure--teacher contribution to student test scores--than did previous research. In fact, these data tell a completely different story about which teachers exit early from the profession.

Highlights from the study:

  • When student test scores are factored into the equation, it is the more effective teachers who tend to stay. Teachers who never transferred schools or districts produce stronger student gains.
  • There are still significant numbers of highly effective teachers who leave the classroom--nearly the same number as those who decide to stay.
  • Highly effective teachers tend to stay in generally challenging schools, but even they don't have the stamina to stick it out in the most dysfunctional schools.
  • It turns out that teachers with advanced degrees are more likely to remain in the field than teachers who do not. At last! A modicum of research that gives districts a reason to continue expending millions rewarding teachers for getting useless master's degrees.