Teacher Turnover rates are at an all-time high in public schools, and they are disproportionately impacting kids from low-income households.
“When I applied for my job there were 70 applicants; when we advertised for new teaching positions last year there were three. The drop in numbers is scary – maths and English are struggling to recruit…” remarks Jonathan, teacher and head of his department for five years. Yes, it is getting harder and harder to recruit teachers for our public schools.
Here is what the Federal data tells us:
- Over 17% of new teachers leave their jobs within four years. Over a quarter of these teachers leave involuntarily due to budget constraints or performance levels.
- Teachers are more likely to leave if they are over the age of thirty and in their second career.
- Male teachers are also more likely to leave their careers, as well as Alternative Certification Program teachers. For example, in the year 2011-2012, twenty-one percent of the Alternative Certification Programs teachers left their careers verses the sixteen percent of traditionally certified teachers.
- Teachers with their first year in a high-poverty area are also more likely to quit or transfer to a more affluent area.
One of the problems that new teachers encounter is the stark contrast between what they envisioned their lives would be as a teacher verses the reality of actually teaching in our public schools. New teachers become overwhelmed by the basic fundamentals of the education system including standards, formal assessments, benchmark tests, collection of data & analysis, phone calls to parents, variability within student comprehension & ability, and advance curriculum planning.
To the new teachers, there seems to be an improper balance between time spent teaching, paperwork, and personal time—creating disillusionment, particularly for new teachers.
Gaby Proctor, 22, former teacher-in-training who quit after three months in the program says, “Now I’m going to work, doing my work and working hard, and I can go home and I don’t have to worry about it at home. There was no downtime with teaching. You have to take it home with you, you don’t have a choice. I have mental health issues anyway, with depression and anxiety disorders, and I found it made them so much worse. The pressure, it’s crazy.”
The Tragedy of Poverty
The real problem, however, is lack of funding, which is especially apparent in poorer areas.
“Low-income students need extra support and resources to succeed, but in far too many places, policies for assigning teachers and allocating resources are perpetuating the problem rather than solving it,” says former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The highest teacher turnover rates happen in the very areas that need good teachers—high-poverty areas in inner cities and rural districts.
For example, one reason well-funded schools attract highly qualified teachers is better work conditions. The schools are cleaner, well maintained, and well-provisioned with teaching supplies.
In the Teachers College Record Study of Teaching Conditions in Massachusetts Schools, it was found that 53% of the teachers in more affluent areas believed that their school is “a good place to work and learn,” while only 32% of teachers in the areas with the highest degree of poverty believed the same.
Unfortunately, far too often, socio-economic conditions become reliable predictors of student success.
Experienced Teachers are Leaving
Many teachers within high-poverty districts are leaving these schools. Often, these teachers relocate to school districts in more affluent areas, with better performing students, and less ethnic diversity. In 2013, The American Educational Research Journal stated that this “…results in organizational instability and concentration of less experienced, lower performing teachers, both of which hurt student achievement.”
The “Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the Five Years,” study focused on new teachers that began their careers in 2007-2008. A growing percentage of the teachers did not choose to continue their careers: 10% of teachers did not continue teaching in 2008-2009. This increased to 12% in 2009-2010, then 15%in 2010-2011, and 17% in 2011-2012.
A big reason for the turnover was salary. The study observed that 97% of teachers whose salary their first year was $40,000 or more continued teaching in 2008-2009. Furthermore, 89% of these teachers continued teaching into 2011-2012.
By contrast, only 89% of teachers whose salary their first year was less then $40,000 continued teaching in 2008-2009. This number dropped further to 80% of teachers who continued teaching into 2011-2012.
Wealthier schools with proper funding were able to afford to provide higher salaries. Therefore, they were able to attract and retain more qualified teachers. This further translated to better stability and moral, eventually resulting in more successful students – a sharp contrast to their cohorts in poorer areas.
The Vicious Cycle of Lack of Funding
Lack of funding creates a vicious cycle for schools in lower-income districts:
- Because of the way schools are funded through local property taxes, these schools already start with less funding when compared with their counterparts in more affluent suburbs.
- As a result, they have difficulty providing the salary or the working conditions necessary to attract high-quality teachers, or retain them once hired.
- This high turnover of teachers only exacerbates the truancy rates that these schools already experience. The higher truancy now costs these schools sorely needed Federal funding.
- With still lower funding, these schools continue to struggle, and lose teachers
- This results in classroom disruptions, bullying and harassment, further leading to penalties and more truancy.
And the vicious cycle spirals down.
A Solution with a Catch
What can our public schools do to reverse this trend, and attract and retain high-quality teachers?
We know mentoring by seasoned older teachers helps. It is not unusual for new teachers to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do each day, without seeming to make any apparent impact.
“If I was having a problem with a child, someone would come into the room to observe and give me advice. I felt like they had my back,” says Jennifer Scoggins, 32, a teacher in New York, who is also on her way towards getting her Ph.D.
There is research evidence to support that mentoring programs work. In 2008-2009, 92% of teachers with mentors continued teaching into their second year compared to 84% without mentorship. In 2011-2012, these numbers 86% compared to 71% without a mentor. The results of this study induced the Federal Government to invest $21 million to create twenty-eight teacher-residency programs that provide prospective teachers with hands-on experience.
However, there is catch here. An increasing number of experienced teachers are leaving their teaching careers, resulting in a shortage of mentors for the programs.
“I can’t see myself doing this until the current retirement age. I can see teachers, working early mornings, late nights, demanding days, at 68 years old… I can see teachers dying in the classroom, I really can,” says Graham, 30, teacher and assistant head of her school.
So, what now?
Changing the Social Climate
As discussed above, schools in poorer areas have especially hard time recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. We also showed that this creates a vicious cycle that only deteriorates with time. So, how can these schools turn this situation around?
We know the answer lies in better funding, which would help create a better environment for both students and teachers. However, clearly there is not much that schools can do about state and local funding. That formula is out of their control.
These schools, however, can do something about Federal Funding–if they can reduce their truancy and bullying rates. In California, public schools lose over $1 billion in funding each year to truancy alone. The vast majority of the schools that lose such funds are in low-income areas. Keeping this funding would go a long way in creating the climate that is conducive to high quality education.
The key is to create a positive social climate that is attractive to both teachers and students. But, how do we do that?
What if we get these kids to want to come to school and stay in class without disrupting? How can we make learning more accessible and more fun?
One way this can be done is through an emerging concept called Interactive Learning, which is more engaging and more effective than traditional teaching methods. Through the use of interactive animations and video modeling, students are able to grasp complex concepts and place them in real world situations, building strong cognitive skills. With interactive learning, real-life concepts become balanced and aligned with a thriving classroom atmosphere that includes teamwork and positive behavior, improving the educational climate for teachers and students.
This is why interactive learning has been proven to be an effective mechanism for delivering Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which can ultimately change behavior within the student population, leading to a reduction in bullying, classroom disruption, and absenteeism. Improve absenteeism and reduce bullying, and funding will begin to improve.
CoolSchool develops video based interactive lessons for teaching Social Emotional Learning, reducing bullying and absenteeism in public elementary schools.
Contact us today for a demo of the suite of products that significantly reduce both absenteeism and bullying.