Retaining Teachers in Challenging Schools

By Greenlee, Bobbie; Brown, John J., Jr. | Education, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Retaining Teachers in Challenging Schools


Greenlee, Bobbie, Brown, John J., Jr., Education


What Do School Leaders Need to Know About Retaining Good Teachers in Challenging Schools

Much of value can be learned from identifying work conditions and strategies of principals who are successful in retaining teachers in challenging schools. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has stirred efforts to recruit highly qualified teachers for every classroom, however, efforts might be better directed to keeping quality teachers. The problem of teacher attrition affects all of America's schools, but the impact is particularly severe for the neediest students in low income communities. Teachers in high poverty schools were more likely to be out of field, had neither a major or minor in the subject they were teaching, had less teaching experience and were more likely to have failed teacher certification exams on their first try (Olson, 2003). Numerous studies show that schools that serve greater portions of low-income, low achieving and/or minority students have higher teacher attrition rates than in wealthier, low-minority schools (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Hanushek, Kain & Rivkin, 2004, Ingersoll, 2003). The resulting impact is evident by increased widening of achievement gaps between minority and poor children and more affluent white children (Cloffelter, Ladd, Vigdor & Wheeler, 2007; Peske & Haycock, 2006).

In a study of teacher attrition in Texas, it was estimated that the teacher turnover rate was 15% overall and nearly 40% for those in their first three years of teaching. The cost was an estimated $8,000 for each new teacher who left, costing the state a total of $329 million a year (Darling-Hammond, 2003). A similar study in North Carolina estimated costs for recruiting, hiring and professional development of newly hired teachers at $11,500 per teacher (Charlotte Advocates for Education, 2004). It is estimated that the total cost for school districts nationwide to recruit, hire, and retrain replacement teachers to fill the positions is approximately 7.34 billion dollars. This price is not inclusive of the impact on student performance that occurs when qualified teachers leave the classroom (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2008).

Much of teacher attrition is due to teacher migration to schools with better resources, more professional opportunities, higher student achievement and lower proportions of minority and poor students (Hanushek et al., 2004; Ingersoll, 2003). Among teachers leaving challenging schools, the factors affecting teachers' decisions to leave are most frequently related to working conditions and classroom management concerns (Darling-Hammond, 2003; Haberman, 2005; Ingersoll, 2003). Schools with a large concentration of disadvantaged students tend to have less adequate facilities, few resources, and fewer opportunities for teachers to participate in schoolwide decision making (Carroll, Fulton, Abercrombie, & Yoon, 2004; Darling-Hammond, 2003). Teachers leaving these schools cited discipline problems, inadequate administrator support, lack of autonomy, and heavy workload among the most common factors that influence their decision to leave (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2002; Haberman, 2005; Ingersoll, 2003; The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2002). Hanushek and colleagues (2004) have speculated that addressing the specific working conditions associated with schools that serve high concentrations of minority or low-income students may reduce teacher turnover.

This exploration of teacher needs in challenging schools and the principal's role to retain a high quality staff is critical to understanding the complex factors that relate to teacher attrition. School leaders face difficult contextual challenges as they work to ensure that all students achieve at levels mandated by NCLB requirements. In addition, principals must find teachers who are highly qualified, committed, and prepared to face the challenges of today's classrooms. …

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