The Problem of Teacher Attrition

As Ohio waits for the axe to fall on public education funding, I urge our new state administrators and representatives to think long and hard before they start chopping away at the budget. As baby boomers continue to retire, many teachers being hired are young, inexperienced and cheap. This is not to say that they are not smart or have potential, but the numbers show from the NCES (for inexperienced legislatures or those forming policies while knowing nothing about education, the NCES is the National Center for Education Statistics,) that teacher attrition is highest within the first 5 years of employment; 25% in the first year, and around 40% after five years. (Parallel Patterns) There are a plethora of reasons for this. Not surprisingly, teacher pay, poor working conditions, (i.e. schools that are falling apart around them,) lack of preparation, and lack of administrative support are among the top reasons. Notice that retirement is not an issue for attrition. Our new governor can bash teacher unions all he wants, but the sad truth is that the best and brightest minds will still take jobs in the private sector with higher pay and six weeks off, than work in public schools with lower pay and 3 months off.

Even sadder, is that charter schools, yes, charter schools, have even higher rates of attrition than public schools. Most charter schools are in the poorest areas of our cities in districts with the highest poverty. They have limited support from administrators and parents, and teachers can be fired with little notice, working without contracts, making even less then public school educators.

In public schools, attrition is about 15.7%, but in charter schools it can be up to 40%. It seems that grade level plays a major role as well. Anyone who has taught, or substituted, in middle school or in special education, knows that it takes a special individual to teach these students.

New teachers are idealistic and naive, and more often than not, less effective than experienced teachers. For new teachers, starting in schools with troubled populations where jobs are more plentiful, a feeling of hopelessness is pervasive. (Google: Unraveling the “Teacher Shortage” Problem: Teacher Retention is the Key.) Students in poor, urban districts, where effective teaching is needed the most, suffer the worst.

According to R.M. Ingersoll (2003,) there are two types of attrition: those who leave the profession entirely and those who transfer to another school or district. Many new teachers get a couple of years under their belt and move on to more affluent, suburban districts, with more money and contracts with more job security.

Cutting the public education budget in favor of charter schools will not solve this problem. Our new governor would do better to acknowledge the expertise of experienced educators in public schools. He should make peace, and increase funding for mentoring, professional development, and well designed induction programs for all teachers. Public school teachers and teacher unions are not the enemy.

By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association


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