Research shows

High teacher turnover lowers ELA and math scores

In a study of 600,000 New York City 4th- and 5th-graders, researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that students in grades with more teacher turnover score lower in both English Language Arts and math and that this effect is strongest in low-performing schools with relatively large populations of black students. This finding was consistent regardless of whether the researchers measured attrition using the proportion of teachers who left the school or the proportion of teachers who were new to the school.

With ELA test scores, the negative effects of teacher turnover were two to four times larger in schools with high proportions of low-performing and black students. In math, the effects were negative in both low- and high-achieving schools, although larger in the low-performing schools. The lower achievement was found regardless of a school’s size or age although the negative effects were greatest in schools that were older than 10 years and big enough to have more than eight teachers per grade level. The harmful effect of turnover was found even after the researchers factored in teacher experience and value-added measures. Even students whose teachers remained at the school felt a negative impact from the turnover in the broader school community.

The researchers hypothesize that turnover is harmful because it affects collegiality among the teaching staff and results in the loss of a type of knowledge about the school and its community that is critical for supporting student learning.

The researchers, Mathew Ronfeldt, Hamp Lankford, Susanna Loeb and Jim Wyckoff of Michigan University, University at Albany, Stanford University and University of Virginia respectively, studied turnover statistics for the period from 2000 to 2002 and from 2004 to 2007. The data showed that about one out of every five 4th- and 5th-grade teachers left or entered a school each year on average, and that approximately 36 percent of schools experienced no teacher turnover in 4th and 5th grades.

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