Teacher attrition up after recession-driven lull

Teachers are voting with their feet again. Though the 2008 recession and its aftermath reduced attrition among city teachers, it seems to be on the move now.

According to new UFT data, teachers and other pedagogues are leaving the school system in much higher numbers than they were two years ago, even as the city has bumped up hiring.

First, we looked at new teachers, those hired over the last five years. The Department of Education hired 3,818 teachers in 2011–12, which was almost 600 more than it hired in the previous year. But of those new hires, 354, or 9.4 percent, quit even before their first year was up. This compares with previous first-year quit rates of 7.8 percent.

The four-year quit rate is also climbing. More than one-third of the 5,000-plus new hires from 2008–09 are now gone from the schools, reversing what many had hoped was a declining attrition trend. [See Hiring and Attrition of NYC Teachers, 2007-2012.]

What makes new teachers leave in such large numbers? The leading researcher on teacher attrition, Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania, says job dissatisfaction plays a major role in about two-thirds of all beginning teacher attrition. Asked to elaborate, he says they cite lack of administrative support, poor student discipline, lack of faculty influence, large class sizes and inadequate planning time.

Though many districts, including New York City, pursue a policy of hiring more and more new, often alternatively certified teachers, this has led to a revolving door that has created serious problems for schools.

“The influx of more new teachers increased the speed of the revolving door into the teaching profession, but did not stabilize the teaching workforce and did nothing to improve teaching quality in high-need schools,” according to the January 2010 report of the respected National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), which was based on Ingersoll’s research.

The evidence is strong, though, that with the lifting of the recession, the city is reverting to just such a staffing approach. At the halfway mark for the current 2012–13 school year, the DOE has already hired 4,234 new teachers, putting it on track for prerecession hiring levels. They include 532 common branch teachers, 1,313 special education teachers, 358 math teachers and 363 science teachers, along with dozens of other titles. The DOE should make every effort to keep them by ensuring that their working conditions will allow them to grow and perform.

Hiring and Attrition of NYC Teachers, 2007-2012
  % quit by year
School Year Hired/Totals one two three four five
10.8 19.0 26.1 31.7 36.1
10.2 19.9 28.1 34.4  
7.8 18.0 25.2    
7.8 16.3      
2012–13 (partial year)


Resignations and retirements

The UFT also looked at attrition across the entire teaching workforce, counting teachers at all seniority levels, school secretaries, guidance counselors, lab techs, psychologists and social workers. Again, our numbers show attrition rising, to 6,233 for 2011–12 from 5,924 the year before.

This time we asked what the main reasons for departure were. Retirements topped the list, as they have since 2009–10, reflecting a national trend of baby boomer retirement. But “resignation of regular” was a close second.

These pedagogues — mainly teachers — were not dismissed (“probationary discontinuance”), did not have licensing problems (“failure to meet state requirements”), weren’t ill (“disability”) and were not working as subs (“substitute terminations”). They were fully licensed pedagogues of working age who simply didn’t want to work in the city school system anymore. [See Departures of All Pedagogues, by Reason, 2007–2012.]

Looking just at those 2,594 “regulars” who resigned last year produced another startling finding: Well over half, 57 percent, were new teachers with just one to five years of experience. They will, of course, be replaced by the 4,000-plus new teachers hired so far this year, and the cycle of mentoring, training and (unfortunately) turnover begins again.

NCTAF’s report finds beginning teacher attrition has surged nationwide by more than 40 percent in the past 16 years even as an unprecedented retirement wave approached. Schools and districts lost 2.7 million teachers in the decade between 1995 and 2005, even more than they hired.

“There is no way that current recruiting strategies — even in hyper drive — can meet this challenge,” the commission writes.

And aside from a permanent hiring frenzy, there is another pernicious result. The nation is facing a “precipitous decline” in teacher experience. In 1987 the “typical” teacher had 15 years experience. By 2007 teachers most commonly had just one year under their belts, according to Ingersoll’s research.

For students, that means the odds of having a novice teacher are high. For schools, it means that more and more of the faculty are new to the profession and on their way out. Is this at odds with the goal of building a highly effective teaching force? Ask anyone — parent, principal, student or teacher. You bet it is.

Departures of All Pedagogues, by Reason, 2007–2012
  2007–08 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12
Substitute terminations 123 171 48 70 80
Retirement 1,940 1,716 2,076 2,638 2,704
Resignation of Regular 4,489 3,299 2,043 2,216 2,594
Probationary discontinuance 309 304 332 241 262
Disability 124 108 97 149 149
Deceased 122 107 78 76 77
Failure to meet state requirements 487 366 282 181 157
Other 272 280 406 353 210
Total 7,866 6,351 5,362 5,924 6,233
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