Half of teachers leave the job after five years. Here’s what to do about it

Amid intense debate about new education standards, and teacher tenure and pay, the Alliance for Excellent Education has turned the focus to new teachers – and their tendency to quit.

A new report, published by the Alliance in collaboration with the New Teacher Center (NTC), a non-profit that helps schools and policymakers develop training for new educators, found that about 13 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year, costing states up to $2 billion. Researchers estimate that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50 percent quit within five years.

Katie Bonfiglio, a 9th grade English Teacher at Arlington High School. (Michelle Pemberton/The Star)

The high turnover rates are sometimes due to layoffs, “but the primary reason they leave is because they’re dissatisfied,” said Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research on teacher retention was published in the report. Teachers say they leave because of inadequate administrative support and isolated working conditions, among other things. These losses disproportionately affect high-poverty, urban and rural schools, where teaching staffs often lack experience.

A Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) report found that schools serving low-income, minority students turn over half of their staffs every three years, deepening the divide between poor and wealthy students to the most experienced teachers.

But the new report says poor retention isn’t a commitment problem. It’s a support problem.

A National Center for Education Statistics survey found a correlation between the level of support and training provided to new teachers and their likelihood of leaving after the first year. So the Alliance and NTC have concluded that new teachers need more on-the-job training and mentor programs for the first two years that’s designed to keep them in the profession.

Called “comprehensive induction,” the training should include a high-quality, pre-screened mentor who is an experienced teacher, common planning time with other teachers, regular and rigorous training, and ongoing contact with school leaders, like principals and district officials, according to the NTC and Alliance report.

Ingersoll says studies prove these programs work, but that the quality of them is inconsistent across schools, districts, and states.

“It’s no surprise that reforms centered around induction and support for beginning teachers has become a trend,” said Ingersoll.

The report suggests that these mentorship programs be required for new teachers to earn full licensure, and stresses the importance of schools giving mentor teachers time and compensation to support novice teachers. It also recommends regular evaluations of new teachers, school-wide analysis of teacher learning conditions and environment, and district responsibility to distribute effective teachers evenly across schools.

“It’s way more than giving them a mentor,” said Ellen Moir, founder of the NTC.

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Alexandria Neason

Alexandria Neason is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She has contributed to Chalkbeat New York, WAMU’s Metro Connection, National Public… See Archive