June 15, 2007

Teacher attrition

This week's article by Bess Keller on teacher attrition statistics raises some interesting questions about the various estimates of teacher attrition, including the oft-cited "50% in 5 years" rule of thumb (sometimes attributed to Richard Ingersoll). Keller's argument is that the 50% figure is an exaggeration and that other professions have attrition patterns similar to teachers. Paul Gasparra has some interesting observations based on that, in terms of paying more attention to socialization than retention.

I have a few different points about the attrition data:

  • I'm not sure the similarity of attrition rates for different professions makes the situation in teaching any better. We should be worried with high attrition rates in nursing and teaching, because lives and futures are in the balance. I'm not so sure that other professions (such as accounting) have quite the same consequences of higher turnover.
  • We need better data on the patterns of attrition. I think we can get that data, but that's a research project I'm currently helping on, so I may be biased. It's very difficult to gather localized data on years since entry into the profession, but there are other ways to slice the issue, especially at the district and school level.

More generally, there are three larger goals we should focus on: making sure that there are enough teachers, making sure that teachers are good, and reducing the dramatic in the quality of teachers that children have. The claims about national attrition focus on the first two, but this is only one part of the picture.

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Posted in Education policy on June 15, 2007 10:39 PM |