Credit: Tue Nam Ton for EdSource
Job seekers meet and greet recruiters during a July 2016 job fair at La Escuelita in Oakland.

Teachers in America are dropping out, leaving the profession at twice the rate of teachers in high-achieving school systems like those in Finland and Ontario, Canada. And they’re departing in large part because their principals do not support them, according to a report released Tuesday.

But if schools could convince half of those who leave to stay, the teacher shortage that puts thousands of under-qualified emergency replacements in classrooms each year “could be virtually eliminated,” according to the report from the Learning Policy Institute, a Palo Alto research group.

As California legislators work to entice teachers into the field through housing subsidies and loan-forgiveness programs, the report argues that the rush of teachers out of the profession is perhaps the more dominant driver of a national shortage of teachers, a shortfall most acute in the fields of special education, science, math and English language development.

About 90 percent of teacher vacancies nationwide are created by teachers leaving the profession, the report states. Fewer than one-third of those who leave are retiring, while two-thirds are beginning or mid-career teachers who are walking away from the job for reasons other than retirement.

Most often, they say they are leaving because of dissatisfaction with working conditions, according to the report, which analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey and its 2013 Teacher Follow Up Survey. “Teaching is a tough job and if you don’t feel you have the administrative support, both tangible and intangible — feeling that somebody’s got your back and your voice is heard — it’s not easy,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute and co-author of the report. California schools, which are among the lowest funded in the U.S., also function with fewer tangible administrative supports, such as librarians, counselors or additional administrators who are available to step in if “there’s a kid in need of acute support,” Darling-Hammond said.

About 8 percent of U.S. teachers leave teaching annually, compared to 3 or 4 percent of teachers in Finland and Ontario, the report says. Another 8 percent of U.S. teachers each year switch schools. The 16 percent annual churn is tough on students, who may be in a classroom with an under-qualified replacement, and on the rhythm of school life. “Teachers are the No. 1 in-school influence on student achievement,” said a press release about the study.

Poor support from administrators is the most powerfully predictive reason teachers quit the field or change schools — more predictive than any other workplace issue, including teachers’ feelings about student behavior, support from colleagues, paperwork duties, school resources, classroom control or influence over school operations, the report says.

“School professional workplace cultures are very complex and some are very set in their ways,” said Karen Hunter Quartz, director of research at the UCLA Community School Initiative, a partnership between UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District. She added, “The most effective administrators are those who value distributed leadership, who are collaborative, who recognize lead teachers, and who are willing to take the time it requires to develop those more democratic structures, rather than the command-and-control that often happens in school.”

Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, said the findings were “absolutely consistent” with his own experience as a teacher and with research reports compiled by the union. “It’s basic stuff — you treat people with respect, give them a voice and treat them like professionals,” he said. He added, “To be fair, principals have a hard job and it’s about getting the right support and development for them … Both teachers and administrators would stay longer if they felt supported.”

Another factor that contributes to teachers leaving the field is how well they were prepared for the job, the report found. Teachers who take a non-standard route to a credential, which could include Teach for America or another alternative credentialing program, are 25 percent more likely to leave their school than other teachers, the report says. Those alternative paths typically require considerably less coursework and fewer hours of student teaching than a credentialing program at a California State University campus, for example.

Turnover rates are 70 percent higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color and 50 percent higher for teachers in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. “We haven’t done nearly enough in our society both to reduce childhood poverty and to create environments that are healthy for children, including increasing resources for schools,” Darling-Hammond said.

SHARE ARTICLE

Comments (15)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments Policy

The goal of the comments section on EdSource is to facilitate thoughtful conversation about content published on our website. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Concerned Teacher 1 month ago1 month ago

    I have seen gossip, gaslighting and miscommunication become extremely problematic for teachers in education lately. This negative behavior seems to have resulted in the changes that have taken place with the leadership model over the past 8 years. Unfortunately the current leadership model seems to creates division, displaces children as top priority and has created a system of communication where much is lost in translation. The current team leader model makes it hard to suggest … Read More

    I have seen gossip, gaslighting and miscommunication become extremely problematic for teachers in education lately. This negative behavior seems to have resulted in the changes that have taken place with the leadership model over the past 8 years. Unfortunately the current leadership model seems to creates division, displaces children as top priority and has created a system of communication where much is lost in translation. The current team leader model makes it hard to suggest opinions without backlash.
    After teaching for 20 years in elementary education, I have seen positive and negative changes take place. I have seen the pendulum swing back and forth, mandates come and go. I have witnessed struggles and growth. Of all the changes, I find the model that has been least effective to education is the team leader model accepted by most districts. I say this as a teacher who has been leader on and off the teams so I view it from both sides. Before the team model, the entire school was a team, all were leaders. We were friends across the grades, we lunched as one team, our team was our school, each equal members. Our goal was to improve our school for children. Grade levels would meet and discuss plans. There was not one chosen leader, all were leaders, voices were equal, and conversation were natural as the politics of the meeting were not predominant, rather the problems occurring in the classroom at that moment.
    Team models where there is one leader automatically create division. Pecking order is established, survival is the goal rather than the issues in the classrooms. Becoming friends with the leader so you have a voice is the underlying concern. Rather than focusing on problems at hand, there is a natural propensity to constantly speak in a manner that will be well perceived by the leader who then has discussions with the coach and principal. This is not always the case because there is the occasional team that works, however it is a shot in the dark where we assume positive intentions at all times from every member, there is no flexibility there.
    This system automatically takes away transparency. The team members can’t be transparent, and the leader must speak in a way that is acceptable to the administration. This is a system where control is not in the hands of the teachers. The leadership meetings become a place where conversations are had in privacy and only the chosen are invited. We need to go back where meetings are had as one team, where all are invited. As it stands the concern of what is happening to the school that used to funnel through a unified system has been replaced and thrust through a bureaucratic machine no better than an elaborate creation of Rube Goldberg. With the past team model, all were team leaders, the conversations, leadership and objectivity were organic and student driven. On given days, different members lead due to natural changes, good days, good plans and organic dynamics that could be called into action depending on the situation.
    Schools need to return to the traditional team model where we are trusted to discuss topics we see as problematic. The micro management must be removed so we can see what is happening in our own classrooms at the moment instead of being forced to be bobble heads in survival mode. Our power as teachers has been diminished through this current model I am afraid. We are gaslighting each other because we are in survival mode as opposed to being trusted to be the professionals we were trained to be. We need to call this for what it is and work towards a system that gives all voice and respect so that we can once again return to the immediate needs at hand, see each other as supporters rather than adversaries and become the actual teams we were without feeling oppressed or resentful. Veteran teachers and new teachers must have equal voice as it used to be and problems should be taken to one person, the administrator, so we are no longer playing a game of telephone but actually addressing the needs of our students.

  2. Todd Maddison 3 months ago3 months ago

    So... the article blames the problem largely on attrition from people leaving the profession, but overlooks a couple things… 1) 8 percent turnover from teachers moving around is pretty low for any industry – it’s not exactly a crisis. It would be interesting to know how much of this was truly for “grass is greener” issues as well, because in normal circumstances a large part of this tends to be “my spouse got transferred” or “I … Read More

    So… the article blames the problem largely on attrition from people leaving the profession, but overlooks a couple things…

    1) 8 percent turnover from teachers moving around is pretty low for any industry – it’s not exactly a crisis. It would be interesting to know how much of this was truly for “grass is greener” issues as well, because in normal circumstances a large part of this tends to be “my spouse got transferred” or “I started my career a distance away and found a job closer to home” or “I needed to move to take care of my mother,” not necessarily “I hate my job and need to get somewhere else”.

    2) What would the impact be if teachers were required to stay on the job to 65 before they could retire – like the rest of us? How much of this problem is driven by the fact that the usual teacher pension plan deal starts allowing retirement at 55 instead? Yes, “bright new teachers” into the system is always a good thing, but “older experienced teachers” have a lot of value as well. I know many teachers that would have done a great job for another 10 years but retired at the young age of 55 “just because they could.” Who wouldn’t, right?

    And, as far as filling the pipeline with new teachers?

    What if the profession said to new teachers “This is a great job, lots of time off, good pay, and a great pension plan – be a teacher!” instead of pushing this constant drumbeat that teaching is awful and underpaid?

    Average teacher salary in California in 2016 was $79K/year plus benefits (per the California Department of Education data.) Now, that is greatly skewed towards teachers with more tenure, but those are the rules the unions set up, not the districts. If the slant between low paid entry and higher paid experienced teachers were leveled out, perhaps THAT might induce more to choose the profession?

    There are very few private industry jobs where people can stay in the exact same job – with no promotions or advancement into other positions (management, for instance) and make twice as much as entry level workers at any point in their career. That rarely happens because in private industry we have to recognize that even two “inexperienced” workers can get more done than one “experienced” worker, and the math simply does not work.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 months ago3 months ago

      Todd: I believe the pension deal that the Legislature passed 5 years ago reduced the pension that teachers would receive at age 55. To get a full pension, the retirement age is 65 — at least for teachers hired after 2012.

  3. Ellen 3 months ago3 months ago

    Oh the irony! For years veteran teachers were demonized and only "young and energetic teachers" were deemed worthy to be in the classroom. Now that the recession is over and there are fewer public school teachers in the classroom, NOW you want to keep the teachers in the classroom. But let's carefully examine what led to our own cultural revolution against public school teachers. In addition, as another … Read More

    Oh the irony! For years veteran teachers were demonized and only “young and energetic teachers” were deemed worthy to be in the classroom. Now that the recession is over and there are fewer public school teachers in the classroom, NOW you want to keep the teachers in the classroom. But let’s carefully examine what led to our own cultural revolution against public school teachers.

    In addition, as another poster mentioned, you fail to mention the behavior issues and lack of student accountability. In addition, strong unions are needed because they professionalize the workplace. In urban areas, teachers must be given a housing subsidy of at least 20 percent. That would help.

    You are correct about some principals. I and my colleagues currently work under a principal who does not support us, is secretive and makes bad decisions. In addition, he allows students to abuse teachers. This has led to teachers having to institute more draconian policies in their classroom which would not be needed in a well-managed school.

    And as another poster mentioned, we have students who don’t prioritize education in their lives and are in fact working to support late model cars and other non-needed items. Some treat school like a cafeteria where they can take what they want, then be absent several days. The sense of entitlement among low-income students with poor academic skills is stunning. They try to blame teachers for their own failures and demand make-up work even when they have admitted ditching school. Until we deal with the issue of student accountability, little will change.

    Replies

    • Jen 3 months ago3 months ago

      Amen!

  4. Donna hertz 3 months ago3 months ago

    You ignore class size, student behavior, technology, lack of classroom aides and parental involvement
    You ignore the sense of entitlement about the right to be educated and older students working to support their cars and sometimes, family.
    This article was very limited in scope and acknowledgement of what really drives teachers out!

    Replies

    • Jane Meredith Adams 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi, Donna. Agreed. The report did not go into detail about the many reasons teachers leave their jobs. It singled out the top reasons given on a national survey. But there's always more to the story by region and by school. I'd like to hear from teachers about their reasons for leaving or thinking about leaving. Thanks. jadams@edsource.org Read More

      Hi, Donna. Agreed. The report did not go into detail about the many reasons teachers leave their jobs. It singled out the top reasons given on a national survey. But there’s always more to the story by region and by school. I’d like to hear from teachers about their reasons for leaving or thinking about leaving. Thanks. jadams@edsource.org

      • Paula Campbell 3 months ago3 months ago

        It would be interesting to know precisely what support would encourage veteran teachers to stay. Do they want to be left alone, help with disruptive students, professional coaching, collaboration time to work with colleagues to improve instruction? My long time wish has been to have the resources to employ interested teachers for a longer year to work on improving instruction and curriculum for their sites and districts and to employ teacher coaches during … Read More

        It would be interesting to know precisely what support would encourage veteran teachers to stay. Do they want to be left alone, help with disruptive students, professional coaching, collaboration time to work with colleagues to improve instruction? My long time wish has been to have the resources to employ interested teachers for a longer year to work on improving instruction and curriculum for their sites and districts and to employ teacher coaches during the year as supports for teachers and a means to correct direction during the year. We have incredible expertise in our schools!

  5. Emma Constantine 3 months ago3 months ago

    There needs to be several thing to happen: 1. Administrators from top down need to encourage values of hard work in students and supporting teachers. 2. Reevaluation of pay to make education commensurate with jobs of similar training. 3. Revolution of classroom discipline to reduce disruptive elements and reward learning. 4. NO cell phones / other distractions. The school day is for learning. 5. Simplify the curriculum to remove the social experimentation and bring education back … Read More

    There needs to be several thing to happen:
    1. Administrators from top down need to encourage values of hard work in students and supporting teachers.
    2. Reevaluation of pay to make education commensurate with jobs of similar training.
    3. Revolution of classroom discipline to reduce disruptive elements and reward learning.
    4. NO cell phones / other distractions. The school day is for learning.
    5. Simplify the curriculum to remove the social experimentation and bring education back to roots. Someone who can critically think can learn anything.

  6. SD Parent 3 months ago3 months ago

    San Diego Unified just gave Selective Early Retirement to hundreds of its teachers (and other employees, plus lay-offs) to fill a $124 million shortfall in 2017-18. And this is while also complaining of a teacher shortage. Sounds like a combination of the desire for a cheaper labor force coupled with short-sighted thought process.

  7. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    I appreciate the article and most of the points fit my experience. Having good, supportive administration makes all the difference in making a pleasant and fulfilling work environment. Having the tools you need to do the job - supplies, training, resources – are also key. One thing not mentioned is that we don't think enough about our facilities both in terms of creating an effective learning environment or a comfortable work environment. It's insane that we … Read More

    I appreciate the article and most of the points fit my experience. Having good, supportive administration makes all the difference in making a pleasant and fulfilling work environment. Having the tools you need to do the job – supplies, training, resources – are also key.

    One thing not mentioned is that we don’t think enough about our facilities both in terms of creating an effective learning environment or a comfortable work environment. It’s insane that we have schools in California without air conditioning or without adequate electricity or networking to run classrooms with computers. No one expects an accountant to work in an office at 90 F but somehow we expect kids to learn algebra in that environment and teachers to control and motivate 30 kids in that situation. Title I schools don’t tend to have a lot of bonding capacity to make those upgrades.

    If we care about learning, the work environment in a school should be at least as comfortable as a typical office building.

  8. Ann Halvorsen 3 months ago3 months ago

    Good article, Jane. I'd like to see a study just on California teachers' reasons. The US study is 4-5 years old and the reasons discussed nationally may not be completely aligned with ours. We also have a significant shortage of principals in California schools. Do they also leave or not come into the profession for support reasons? In a recent discussion with CSU faculty colleagues, the inability of California teachers to participate … Read More

    Good article, Jane. I’d like to see a study just on California teachers’ reasons. The US study is 4-5 years old and the reasons discussed nationally may not be completely aligned with ours. We also have a significant shortage of principals in California schools. Do they also leave or not come into the profession for support reasons? In a recent discussion with CSU faculty colleagues, the inability of California teachers to participate in Social Security in this state, as opposed to other states’ teachers, such as in NY) has prevented many possible career changers from entering teaching in California.

  9. Tom Timar 3 months ago3 months ago

    I've been in regular contact with some of my former undergrad students who went on to get MA degrees in teaching, and then took jobs in high-poverty, Title I schools in South Central LA. Within five years, they left teaching. Not because of the poverty or the students, but because of the chaotic and mindless teaching environment. Most left because schools seemed to focus exclusively on test scores to the detriment of providing a high … Read More

    I’ve been in regular contact with some of my former undergrad students who went on to get MA degrees in teaching, and then took jobs in high-poverty, Title I schools in South Central LA. Within five years, they left teaching. Not because of the poverty or the students, but because of the chaotic and mindless teaching environment. Most left because schools seemed to focus exclusively on test scores to the detriment of providing a high quality education. It is the continued de-professionalization of teaching and the professionally degrading conditions under which teachers work that drives teachers out of teaching. It is more about the lack of professional support than it is about the money.

  10. Mark Fetler 3 months ago3 months ago

    Darling-Hammond has done excellent research on this topic for years. Another interesting facet is the fact that many who complete teacher prep programs in colleges and universities never take a job in public schools, perhaps a leading indicator of teacher attrition.

  11. Raoul 3 months ago3 months ago

    What are the incentives for public school administrators or districts (or the charter school industry) to support teachers and to treat them well? If a poorly treated and poorly supported mid-career teacher leaves a job, it will likely be filled by a beginner who is much cheaper given the large pay differentials in California for newer vs. longer tenured teachers. In almost any other employment realm, when employees are unsupported and poorly treated and ultimately … Read More

    What are the incentives for public school administrators or districts (or the charter school industry) to support teachers and to treat them well? If a poorly treated and poorly supported mid-career teacher leaves a job, it will likely be filled by a beginner who is much cheaper given the large pay differentials in California for newer vs. longer tenured teachers.

    In almost any other employment realm, when employees are unsupported and poorly treated and ultimately jump ship, the employer faces the consequence that nobody will work for him/her/it. In the California educational employment realm, when employers mistreat employees and the employees jump ship, the state responds by declaring a “shortage crisis” and shoehorning hordes of cheap replacements into the pipeline. So the educational employers face no real consequences for their poor environments and practices, and indeed are rewarded with an abundance of cheap replacements.

    Isn’t this what is in process now with the supposed “shortage” and the proposed responses to it?