Thursday, April 30, 2015

New Teacher Attrition Report: Better Than You Thought

The USED National Center for Education Statistics today released a "first look" at a new report looking at public school teacher attrition and mobility (entitled, with typical bureaucratic poetry, "Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Year")

Our data set is centered on around 155,000 teachers who began teaching in 2007-2008, looking at them through 2011-2012, so this is a data slice that shows us what has happened to the profession most recently, but not, it should be noted, since the CCSS test bomb dropped on classrooms all over the country.

The "first look" is brief and loaded with charts, so you should really go take a look at it yourself, but here are some highlights to whet your appetite.

The basic raw attrition rate is far better than the conventional wisdom about half of new teachers leaving within the first five years. NCES figures say that by year five, 17.3% of the Class of 07-08 has left the classroom.

When you break that attrition down by categories, you find

* men left in a higher percentage than women
* non-white teachers left in higher percentages than white
* teachers with a base pay of over $40K left at a vastly lesser rate than everyone else

A third of teachers with less than a bachelor degree left within the first year, but almost half of the teachers with "higher than a master's degree" left immediately.

Teachers who were not assigned mentors left at roughly twice the rate of teachers with mentors.

So if you're hiring teachers, a black man with a PhD who's going to be paid less than $40K is your worst bet for classroom longevity.

I'm not surprised to see that teachers with alternative certificates or no certificates at all were more likely to have left. Elementary teachers stuck around in greater percentages than secondary teachers (proving either high school jobs are harder or elementary teachers are tougher; as a high school teacher married to an elementary teacher, I am prepared to offer no theory on this matter).

But I was surprised to see that the attrition rate for city/suburban vs. town/rural was almost exactly the same. Town/rural starts out losing faster, but by year five had evened out.

Less surprising-- finding that schools with over 50% free and reduced lunch rates had higher attrition rates. But the difference was not as huge as you might have predicted (18.6% vs 15.7%)

Folks will poke through this data for a variety of purposes. For instance, this may be the place to ask if young teachers are fleeing or being pushed out. For this groups movers (changing to a new job), 2 in 5 were involuntary after five years. For leavers, it's more complicated. Involuntary departures varied from year to year, with a peak of 35.5% after the second year and a low of 19.9% after the fourth. I'd be curious to see if that means that pre-tenure departures through counseling or firing are actually happening out there, but it appears there's more number crunching and data diddling to do.

There's plenty of appendage regarding methodology and technical explanations that yield paragraphs like this one:

For the BTLS first wave, weights are obtained directly from the 2007–08 SASS, since all interviewed beginning teachers in SASS were eligible for BTLS. On the BTLS data file, the final weight for the first wave is called W1TFNLWGT, which is called TFNLWGT on the SASS data file. 

So I'll leave it to wiser data crunchers to pry this apart a bit more. This is data that appears to be worth a careful, considered look.

Did the rate get better after the former 50% rate was bandied about, or was that rate (which was always an estimate) just not right? Have the forces of reform changed the ebb and flow of the profession? And have attrition rates been changed by the past three years of test-and-punish? Does this mean that the fear of displaced young teachers is misplaced, or are we over-worried about chasing people away? And exactly how does this new data really supports or attacks any of the old arguments? I don't think we know any of these things yet, but now that we have actual hard data, we can start to figure them out and move past our "best guesses" of the past.

In the meantime, I would be pleased to find that my beloved profession is not hemorrhaging as badly as has been presumed. There are too few male and/or minority teachers-- that doesn't seem to have "changed." But I don't really care if this data make it easier or harder for reformsters or the rest of us to make our cases-- I want to see teaching be a stable, satisfying profession, and I want to deal with the issues that we actually have, and not the ones we imagine. Losing 1 in 5 teachers is nothing to brag about. So let the dissecting of this report begin.


  1. "W1TFNLWGT"

    This is one of those funny fake jargon words you make up to keep us readers entertained, right?


  2. My question...was the rate higher in the past (40-50%) and does the fact that fewer college students are currently going into the field of education have anything to do with it? Perhaps the "chaff" is being threshed out before teaching actually begins. Maybe those people who would have thought about teaching for the wrong reasons (easy job, long vacations, etc) are not going into education in the first place.