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Staff turnover at high-needs schools linked to conditions
by Rhonda Rosenberg | February 23, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Two new studies show that high teacher turnover and attrition, particularly in high-needs schools, is the product of the poor work environments that exist in many of these schools — not a lack of interest in working with the high-needs children that attend these schools.
Using teacher survey data on school environment and job satisfaction, researchers found that what matters most to teachers are the conditions in which they work. More important than well-maintained and up-to-date facilities and equipment, the aspects of the work environment that play the biggest role in staff stability are what the researchers describe as the school’s “social condition.”
A school’s social condition is a function of the principal’s leadership ability, the school’s culture, the relationships among colleagues, and how supportive the environment is for teaching.
In the November 2011 Teachers College Record, Jason A. Grissom of the University of Missouri examined data from the Schools and Staffing Survey and the Teacher Follow-up Survey, which together covered a nationally representative sample of 6,290 noncharter public schools and 30,690 teachers during the 2004-2005 school year.
Grissom found that while job satisfaction was significantly lower among teachers at high-poverty schools (defined as schools where on average at least 63 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), teacher turnover was not correlated with school poverty. Rather, he found, turnover was significantly related to principal effectiveness; as a principal’s effectiveness rating rose, the probability of a teacher leaving the school significantly dropped.
Working for Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, researchers Susan Moore Johnson, Mathew A. Kraft and John P. Papay reached similar conclusions about the connection between teacher turnover and school culture. Surveying 35 percent of Massachusetts’ educators working at more than 1,100 schools during the 2007-2008 school year, they further found that a work environment characterized by a supportive climate was so important that it could predict students’ academic growth.
Teachers defined a supportive environment as one characterized by mutual trust, respect, openness and a universal dedication to student achievement.