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2014 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership

2014 ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership

October 31–November 2, 2014, Orlando, Fla.

Learn the secrets to great leadership practices, and get immediate and practical solutions that address your needs.

 

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ResearchBrief

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September 14, 2004 | Volume 2 | Number 19
The Effects of Chronic Teacher Turnover on School Climate and Organization

The Effects of Chronic Teacher Turnover on School Climate and Organization

The Question

How does chronic teacher turnover affect school climate and organization?

The Context

Research on the effects of teacher quality frequently focuses on student and class outcomes—generally as measured by standardized test scores. Through his work on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, William Sanders found that teacher effectiveness is "the single biggest factor influencing gains in achievement" (Teacher Magazine, 2000). Teacher quality–focused research by Kati Haycock and the Education Trust has found that “poor students, low-performing students, and students of color are far more likely than other students to have teachers who are inexperienced, uncertified, poorly educated, and under-performing.” A high rate of turnover is one of the reasons that teacher quality is lower for poor, low-performing, and minority students.

Although the effects teachers have on students are well documented, the systemwide impact of high rates of teacher turnover—such as on the health of the school (including faculty, staff, students, and the larger community)—is often overlooked. Chronic teacher and staff turnover can negatively affect professional development, class size, scheduling, curriculum planning, collegiality, and a variety of other factors, adding a significant degree of chaos and complexity to schoolwide operations and potentially harming student learning across classrooms and teachers.

Teacher turnover is also likely to have a significant fiscal impact as schools and districts must fund additional recruitment programs, implement interview and hiring procedures, and provide additional professional development—not to mention the loss in experience and expertise. In a study on the cost of teacher turnover, researchers estimated these costs could be as much as 150 percent of the leaving teacher's salary, though they recommended an average estimate of 20 percent.

The Details

In the study highlighted in this issue of ResearchBrief (see below for full citation), Kacey Guin focused on a large, urban school district serving 47,000 students across 97 schools (70 of which are elementary or K–8 schools). The schools in the district are divided into geographic clusters largely separated along the lines of affluence and race. Guin focused on elementary schools and collected student demographic data (over five years), student achievement data (on reading and mathematics assessments over six years), teacher turnover data (over five years), and data from a survey on school climate (over three years). The author also conducted case studies of five purposively selected schools (these case studies consisted of staff interviews conducted during one school year).

The average turnover rate for elementary schools in this district was 19 percent, although the majority of schools had averages under 19 percent. At least eight schools had an average teacher turnover rate of more than 40 percent over the five years analyzed, and one school had an average rate of approximately 70 percent. As with previous research, both low student achievement and a large percentage of minority students were moderately correlated with high teacher turnover. The correlation1  between teacher turnover and student achievement in reading was -.306 and in mathematics was -.282. The correlation between teacher turnover and minority enrollment was .293.

The author next looked at the relationship between teacher turnover and school climate through an examination of six school climate concepts (school climate, teacher climate, principal leadership, teacher influence, feeling respected, and teacher interactions) on a district-administered survey. The relationship between turnover and school climate was negative on all measures and statistically significant2  at the .01 level on five of the six measures (school climate, -.168; teacher climate, -.155; principal leadership, -.173; teacher influence, -.139; and feeling respected, -.163).

The case studies conducted in five elementary schools highlighted both positive and negative effects stemming from teacher turnover (within each school, the principal and between two and four teachers agreed to be interviewed). Generally, respondents felt that a large influx of new teachers resulted in a number of negative effects, including

  • Reductions in the time teachers spent with their own students as they tried to support their newer colleagues;
  • Repetition of professional development experiences for all teachers;
  • Loss of established teacher experience;
  • Disruption and repetition of program planning and implementation processes; and
  • Burnout and drain on the energy of staff that stay.

Some respondents did highlight a positive outcome of turnover; it allowed the principal to focus on building a stronger and more unified team as new staff came on board.

Staff in schools with low turnover highlighted a number of positive outcomes from the stability, such as

  • Stable and established support systems;
  • Capacity for planning over extended time;
  • Capacity for cohesive planning and program implementation; and
  • Capacity for strong teamwork and collaboration within—and across—grade levels.

One negative outcome of stability highlighted was the constraint it placed on innovation. In stable systems, new teachers found it more difficult to introduce new practices.

The Bottom Line

High rates of teacher turnover may have a significant negative effect on school health and climate, complicating the ability of schools to plan and implement new programs, conduct professional development, and provide support systems for school faculty. Low rates of staff turnover may increase the capacity of schools to plan over time, implement new programs, and strengthen collaboration and teamwork among staff members. Schools with chronic staff turnover tend to have higher minority enrollments. Students in schools with high rates of teacher turnover may score lower on standardized tests.

Who's Affected?

Schools and districts facing high rates of teacher turnover are the focus of this research.

Caveats

Although this study used both qualitative and quantitative measures, each approach featured significant limitations. The quantitative sections of the survey examined the correlation between various measures and teacher turnover; however, as has been highlighted before in ResearchBrief, correlation is not causation. There may be unmeasured variables other than teacher turnover that account for many of the negative findings of this study. The author originally selected 15 schools for qualitative case study, but only five schools ultimately agreed to participate, and only three to five staff members in each school participated in the interviews. The data gleaned from this study apply to schools in one district and may not generalize to other schools and districts.

The Study

Guin, K. (2004, August 16). Chronic teacher turnover in urban elementary schools. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12(42). Retrieved August 26, 2004, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v12n42/v12n42.pdf.

Other Resources

The Real Value of Teachers
The Education Trust

The Cost of Teacher Turnover
ResearchBrief, 1(8)

Teacher turnover and teacher quality
Teachers College Record

This September, Will Every Child Have a Quality Teacher?
Is It Good for the Kids?

He's Got Your Number
Teacher Magazine

Endnotes

1  The correlation coefficient is a number that represents the degree to which two measures vary in comparison to each other. The correlation coefficient can range from 1 to -1. A correlation of 1 means that the two items are perfectly correlated—one measure rises so does the other measure. A correlation of -1 means when one measure rises, the other measure falls. A correlation of 0 means that the change between measures is not related. The closer the correlation coefficient is to 1 or -1, the more strongly the measures are related. Correlation does not tell us if change in one variable causes change in the other; it simply means that the measures are likely to vary together (but we don't know why). In this issue of ResearchBrief, although there is a correlation between teacher turnover and minority enrollment, we cannot say that increases in minority enrollment cause increases in teacher turnover (or that increasing teacher turnover causes increases in minority enrollment). It is possible that another unmeasured variable (such as high poverty or poor working conditions) is actually causing the measures the change.

2  Significance is used to identify whether a hypothesis is likely to be "true," rather than the result of chance or coincidence. Typically, significance is determined at the p=.05 level, meaning that there is only a 5 percent probability that the conclusions are inaccurate or the result of some unidentified effect. As the p value decreases, the significance strengthens. For example, p=.01 level would suggest that there is only a 1 percent chance that the conclusion is inaccurate.

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All comments regarding ReseachBrief should be sent to RBfeedback@ascd.org. To speak directly with an ASCD staff member, please Contact Us.

Dan Laitsch serves as ASCD's consultant editor for ResearchBrief. Laitsch is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and is coeditor of the International Journal for Education Policy and Leadership.