Stop that Churn

David Murray is out at the Education Writers Association convention in Philadelphia, and has been interviewing up a storm. In Friday’s Press, he touches on the shifts in longevity, retention and churn in the American teaching force.

The American teaching force is expanding, becoming younger, more female and less stable, according to University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll, who has studied trends over the last 20 years.
Ingersoll pointed to a “greening” of the profession, with fewer people staying on the job longer even as the number of teachers soars.
The number of teachers is approaching 4 million – the largest workforce in the country – and is growing two-and-a-half times as the number of students.
He suspects a movement toward smaller class sizes is one reason, and a mushrooming number of special educations students as another factor.
Women teachers have gone from 66 percent of the force in 1988 to 76 percent in 2008, and the attrition rate for first-year teachers went from 9.8 percent to 13.1 percent during the same time.

It seems obvious, but if you want better teachers you need to have them stay around for awhile. The model that the State is moving towards of high accountability and lowered compensation (see decisions on move to 401 k) implicitly assumes a younger work force with higher churn rates. There’s always more where they came from, would be the assumption. Co-ordinated with that would be an emerging view of teaching as a starter-career — again, that generates churn (and also accounts for the skew to women).

Other studies of the early teacher suggest that it is not until the second or often the third year before the teacher really begins to engage. Add to this the impact of the principal and the corollary of a stable school teaching team, and the picture is etched more starkly: instability undermines educational progress.

The programs that could positively impact retention and teacher development (e.g. teaching as craft, collaborative approaches) come at a price tag that to date our legislature has been unwilling to pick up. Indeed recent tax decisions appear to put present funding further at risk — see the Senate Finance report on impact of PPT revisions.


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