New research pinpoints factors that affect teacher turnover

Print More

Small high schools, once heralded as a way to build stronger
relationships between teachers and students, have some of the highest
rates of teacher turnover in the district. This is one of the more
interesting findings from the report The Schools Teachers Leave,
released today by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Linking teacher personnel data, survey data and information about
schools and communities, researchers found that Chicago’s one-year
turnover rate is similar to that of other schools in Illinois and
across the nation: about 80 percent of teachers stay at their school
from one year to the next. But within five years, most CPS schools lose
about half of their teachers.

Small high schools, once heralded as a way to build stronger relationships between teachers and students, have some of the highest rates of teacher turnover in the district. This is one of the more interesting findings from the report The Schools Teachers Leave, released today by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Linking teacher personnel data, survey data and information about schools and communities, researchers found that Chicago’s one-year turnover rate is similar to that of other schools in Illinois and across the nation: about 80 percent of teachers stay at their school from one year to the next. But within five years, most CPS schools lose about half of their teachers.

At both the elementary and high school level, small schools had higher turnover than larger schools. Elementary schools with more than 700 students retained 83 percent of their teachers from year-to-year, compared to just 78 percent at schools with fewer than 350 students. Similarly, larger high schools retained 83 percent of teachers; small high schools, just 73 percent.

Another interesting finding: CPS teachers are less likely to move from school to school over a four-year period, but they are more likely to leave the district.

Researchers identified 100 schools with the highest turnover, and these schools are found mostly in poor black communities.

Still, the fact that half of a school’s teaching staff changes over five years has negative consequences. Any new initiative or professional development winds up having little time to take root, and turnover forces principals to spend an inordinate amount of time on recruiting and hiring teachers.

Why teachers leave … or stay

Much of the report seeks to pinpoint why teachers leave.

At small high schools, researchers said that more intensive work may be required, as teachers are supposed to reach out and bond with students. Also, school conflicts might be more acute.

Although a teacher’s race had little correlation with turnover, the report did note that stability is declining for white teachers. And white and Latino teachers were found to be least likely to remain in predominantly black elementary schools.

Experience and age were found to be the strongest predictors of turnover. New, young teachers, and older teachers who are closer to retirement, are the most likely to leave.

How teachers feel about their experience has a big impact on whether they stay in schools. Teachers often reported that they leave because they don’t have strong relationships with parents and they have a hard time managing student behavior. Teachers tend to stay in schools where principals allow them to collaborate and feel as though they are working with other teachers as partners.

Clarissa Williams, a special education teacher at Altgeld Elementary, reiterated many of the points from the study. Recalling her first year teaching, Williams says she believes young teachers are overwhelmed by the demands of managing student behavior, the challenges in the community and the difficulties of navigating a massive school system. When the upper-level administrators don’t inform teachers of what is going on, she adds, teachers sometimes feel alienated.

Williams also says teachers sometimes don’t feel safe in the surrounding neighborhood.

However, after three years, Williams says she’s sticking around. Many teachers and principals talk about their passion for the work and how that passion is a necessity for a  successful teacher. For Williams, that rings true.

“I feel like I have a higher calling,” she says. “I feel like kids in this area need and deserve the best teachers.”