Teacher Attrition: Crisis Or Red Herring?

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Jack Wenders, a professor of economics at the University of Idaho and Senior Fellow at The Commonwealth Foundation, has written an astute analysis of teacher retention in the latest issue of Texas Education Review. He likens the recent clamor over teacher retention bought to the fore by NCTAF to the earlier strategy of inflating teacher shortage claims. Teacher interest groups do so, Wenders charges, with an eye to championing higher teacher pay and increased certification requirements. He makes a good case that teacher attrition compares favorably to other professions and that most of the abnormally high attrition rates that everyone is hearing about are attributable to a group that constitutes only a small fraction of the entire teaching force: brand new teachers.

The real, and often overlooked issue with new teacher attrition, argues Wender, is that the teachers who leave are the better teachers and they leave in large part because they are compensated the same as less effective new teachers. Where others have raised this issue as well, Wenders adds an interesting insight, pointing out that overly generous retirement plans only add to teacher attrition: "New teachers come into the profession, pay into the retirement plan, fail to become vested in that plan, and leave, thereby leaving the money behind for those who hang on at the upper end of the salary grids." Wenders is bound to ruffle a few feathers which is just one reason why this is worth a read.