Research shows

Work environment key to keeping teachers

A supportive working environment reduces teacher attrition and boosts student achievement, a new Harvard University study has found.

Working conditions explain almost 29 percent of the variation in teacher job satisfaction, making them one of the more potent predictors of teacher turnover and attrition, according to the study published in the Teachers College Record. By comparison, student, teacher and school characteristics explained only 6 percent of the variation in teachers’ decisions to transfer from their school or leave the profession, the study found.

Debunking earlier research which found that teachers’ decisions to leave high-need schools were related to student demographics and poverty, researchers Susan Moore Johnson, Mathew A. Kraft and John P. Papay of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education say that it is a desire to escape the bad working conditions that exist in some high-poverty schools that drive teacher decisions.

Conditions at work that matter most to teachers — and show a strong correlation with the decision to stay in a school — are having productive relationships with colleagues, a supportive principal and a school culture characterized by mutual trust, respect, openness and commitment to student achievement. Planning time, school facilities and instructional resources were also important to teacher job satisfaction, but had less influence on decisions to leave.

The study also found that student achievement rose in schools that provide a supportive working environment. The effect was so great that a .02 increase in school working condition scores moved the average school from the 50th percentile to about the 57th percentile for student growth in English language arts and math. The condition most closely tied to rising student achievement was the degree of community support for the school.

Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that school turnaround policies should focus on improving school work environment rather than replacing teachers.

Some 25,000 K through 12th grade public school teachers from more than 1,100 schools in Massachusetts — representing about 61 percent of the state’s public schools — participated in the study.

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