New Studies Offer Different Perspective on Teacher Retention

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To Teach or Not to Teach? is the questionably catchy title of a new analysis from the National Center on Education Statistics. The study followed 8,100 individuals who received a bachelor's degree in 1992-1993 to see who entered and who stayed in teaching over a ten-year period. The report doesn't answer many questions about recruitment and retention issues, but it does provide some interesting statistics as grist for the mill.

For example, although education majors had lower attrition rates than teachers who majored in other areas, only 71 percent of education majors had ever made it to the classroom, and only 43 percent were teaching in 2003. One headline-grabbing finding is that 93 percent of the current teachers expressed overall satisfaction with their jobs. But the report also shows that these numbers drop off dramatically when teachers were asked specifically about some of the usual indicators of job satisfaction, such as pay (48 percent), parental support (48 percent), student motivation (48 percent), and discipline (58 percent).

Meanwhile, a new report from the Illinois Education Research Council warns that states need to rely on representative state-level data, rather than national samples, for accurate information about teacher retention. Working from 35 years of longitudinal teacher data, the IERC found that the teacher retention story in Illinois differs from the conventional wisdom. Among the findings: only 27 percent of Illinois' new teachers leave teaching within their first five years and do not ever return (the IERC was actually able to review 35 years of Illinois State Board of Ed teacher data) and about one third of teachers who leave during their first five years return to teaching. In addition, the report finds that although some schools clearly have higher attrition rates than others, these schools exist within all socio economic categories. The study found little variance in attrition rates across types of schools, regardless of locale or student characteristics.

What both studies show, albeit in different ways, is the hardly-new notion that working conditions matter to teachers. The correlation between working toilets and job satisfaction--we postulate it's quite high.