Skip to main content

Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It

Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It
Those teaching in schools with 25% or more students of color were more likely to move or leave teaching than teachers in schools with fewer students of color.

Use this tool to estimate the cost of teacher turnover in a school or district and to inform a local conversation about how to attract, support, and retain a high-quality teacher workforce.

When students return to school this year, many will enter one of the more than 100,000 classrooms across the country staffed by an instructor who is not fully qualified to teach. This is because many districts, facing ongoing teacher shortages, are hiring underqualified candidates to fill vacancies. While shortages tend to draw attention to recruitment issues, this report finds that 90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who leave the profession. Some are retiring, but about 2/3 of teachers leave for other reasons, most due to dissatisfactions with teaching. Teacher attrition in the United States is about twice as high as in high-achieving jurisdictions like Finland, Singapore, and Ontario, Canada.

Addressing early attrition is critical to stemming the country's continuing teacher shortage crisis. It is also important for school effectiveness. The cost of attrition to student learning and district budgets is significant. Teachers are the number one in-school influence on student achievement. Research finds that high rates of turnover harm student achievement. In high-turnover schools, the inexperienced and underqualified teachers often hired to fill empty spots also have a negative impact on student learning. Financially, the report estimates that each teacher who leaves, on average, can cost as much as $20,000 in an urban district.

Addressing early attrition is critical to stemming the country's continuing teacher shortage crisis.

This report builds on findings from a 2016 study by LPI, A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Using data from the latest National Center for Education Statistics' Schools and Staffing Surveys, the authors detail who is leaving, why, and which students are most impacted. They also provide information on policy considerations that can address attrition.

Who Is Leaving?

Turnover rates are highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast, where states tend to offer higher pay, support smaller class sizes, and make greater investments in education. Shortages also persist in specific areas: mathematics, science, special education, English language development, and foreign languages and turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color.

Why Do Teachers Leave?

Alternatively certified teachers are 25% more likely to leave their school. Other key influences on turnover include a lack of administrative support, working in districts with lower salaries, dissatisfactions with testing and accountability pressures, lack of opportunities for advancement, and dissatisfaction with working conditions.

Policy Recommendations

To stem teacher turnover, federal, state, and district policymakers should consider improving the key factors associated with turnover: compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.

Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Research in this area of work is funded in part by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. Core operating support for the Learning Policy Institute is provided by the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Sandler Foundation.