With just a few months left in the school year, some teachers are contemplating career changes. These changes may include retirement, reassignment to a different school in their district, relocation to a new district, sabbatical for health/family needs, or leaving the teaching profession altogether. Personnel turnovers can create instability for students, schools, and school districts. What are the costs of these changes? What are the causes of these changes? What information can research contribute to understanding the situation?
In October 2006, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) invited 40 leaders in education, research, math, and science to discuss these issues. One research paper commissioned for the symposium indicates that there are a sufficient number of new science and math teachers to cover normal retirement rates (Ingersoll and Perda 2006). However, because there is not an oversupply, the turnover in math and science creates a problem. Another report suggests that high teacher turnover is often associated with low student achievement (Levy, Fields, and Jablonski 2006).
The NCTAF symposium was very productive, and a number of points emerged from it including:
- Regional, state, and local variations in teacher turnover data exist.
- Most new teachers are produced at regional institutions, and community colleges play a significant role in new teacher production.
- Data on teacher turnover numbers, costs, and effects are poor and uneven.
- Novice teachers are expected to be proficient from the start; other professions consider novices “unfinished” professionals. These novice teachers need multiple types of induction support.
The symposium also identified areas where additional research is needed. For example, how are working conditions and teacher retention related? What are some examples of successful interventions and why do they work? And is math and science teacher turnover a national, regional, or local problem?
As a result of the symposium, the following five recommendations for future research on teaching quality in math and science emerged:
- Better data collection is needed, and the school must be the unit of study. Tracking turnover changes at the school level is essential and will provide useful data to schools and districts.
- Policymakers should address the retention of math and science teachers in addition to recruitment of additional teachers. The “churn” in the building from excessive teacher turnover creates problems in student achievement and school morale.
- There must be a focus on managing teacher turnover. Zero turnover is not possible or desirable—retirement, relocation, poor-quality candidates, and so forth contribute to a healthy turnover rate. Policymakers and school leaders need to identify and implement interventions to retain and further develop quality teachers.
- The process of improving teacher quality shows promise for increasing teacher retention. Identifying the most effective interventions and understanding how and why they work is critical. Possible interventions include comprehensive induction programs, improved professional development, opportunities for classroom teacher advancement, and learning teams/communities.
- Partnerships among higher education institutions and school districts are a shared responsibility for science and math teacher retention and quality. Community colleges may play an overlooked, but significant, role in this partnership. Systems to prepare and support teachers in the classroom are vital.
We cannot afford the current high rate of math and science teacher turnover. It is costly to students, teachers, schools, communities, and our nation. I would encourage all teachers to take an active role in learning how to work toward alleviating this unhealthy turnover in math and science education. For more information, please visit www.nctaf.org/NSFTeacherTurnoverSymposium.htm.
Steven Long (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the NSTA High School Committee and a science teacher at Rogers High School in Rogers, Arkansas.
Ingersoll, R.M., and D. Perda. 2006. What the data tell us about shortages of mathematics and science teachers. http://nctaf.org.zeus.silvertech.net/documents/WhattheDataTellsUs_000.pdf
Levy, A.J., F.T. Fields, and E.S. Jablonski. 2006. Overview of research: What we know and don’t know about the consequences of science and math teacher turnover. http://nctaf.org.zeus.silvertech.net/documents/OverviewofResearch.pdf