Students may not be the only ones leaving public schools. A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education suggests that Rhode Island may be losing between $4 million and $10.4 million due to teacher attrition.
The report, “On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers,” was released this July. The alliance worked in tandem with Richard Ingersoll, an education and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Together, they estimated the costs of teacher attrition throughout the U.S. and by each individual state.
Attrition involves the departure of a teacher from a particular school, the public school system or even the profession itself.
An estimated $2.2 billion is lost nationwide due to teacher attrition, although the report says the issues of attrition poses a bigger concern than simply financial losses.
Typically, teachers are leaving lower-funded and high-poverty schools with disadvantaged students. These schools lose approximately 20 percent of their staff in the calendar year, which is 50 percent higher than the attrition at affluent schools.
By losing teachers to “nicer” schools, the children may be missing out on quality teaching.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, said in a press release, “Teacher attrition hits states and school districts in the wallet, but students and teachers pay the real price. The monetary cost of teacher attrition pales in comparison to the loss of human potential associated with hard-to-staff schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color. In these schools, poor learning climates and low achievement often result in students – and teachers – leaving in droves.”
Public schools across the country are having a teacher retention problem. Teachers are leaving just as quickly as they are being recruited. The study cited that of the 13,234 teachers in Rhode Island in the 2008-09 school year, 1,099 left the profession.
Across the country, 230,122 left public schools.
The study said, “New teacher retention rates vary widely among schools serving similar student populations, suggesting that differences in school climate strongly influence teacher turnover.”
New teachers, within their first five years of teaching, are 40 to 50 percent more likely to leave. The Alliance for Excellent Education believes this is because teachers are not exposed to enough “comprehensive induction programs.”
The study states that without the proper initiatives to promote teacher mentorship, collaboration and communication, schools are not creating an environment that provides sufficient support and morale for its teachers. This affects the students, just as much as the teachers.
“To fundamentally transform education and help students meet the higher performance standards, the culture of how teachers are supported must change,” Wise said. “Such a change requires new initiatives and structures to attract, develop and retain the best teaching talent in schools serving students with the greatest needs, as well as a system that ensures that new teachers receive comprehensive induction and access to school-based collaborative learning.”
Traci Marrocco has been teaching for the past four years in the Warwick Public Schools. Although many new teachers like her throughout the country are leaving the profession, Marrocco said her first few years of teaching only solidified that she wanted to continue.
“I love what I do. It has been a bit more challenging than I had expected, but I have never had any thoughts of changing my profession,” she said.
Marrocco said the schools in which she has taught so far, Warwick Neck and Sherman, have been very open with communication and collaboration, one of the issues the report said could lead a teacher to leave.
“Especially being a new teacher, I had a lot of questions in the beginning,” she said. “Everyone in the Warwick system has been very welcoming, helpful and ready to work with me on anything.”
George Landrie, the new teachers union president, said Warwick has less of a problem with retention than it does in getting rid of teachers.
“We should allow for natural attrition through retirements in Warwick,” he said. “Instead, alongside the retirements at the end of the year, the administration is also laying people off and getting rid of positions.”
Landrie said teachers might think about leaving Warwick because they have lost their pension.
“Teachers are not getting what they signed up for. Teachers are having to work longer and are also receiving less of their pensions,” he said. “Anyone would be lucky to get 50 percent of their pension at this point. We are all growing old together.”
Rosemary Healy, director of human resources and compliance for the school system, said Warwick is very fortunate because teachers rarely resign or leave.
“Most people leave when they are retiring. Once teachers come to our district, they don’t want to leave,” she said.
Healy said most teachers only leave because of personal illness, childcare reasons or if they are moving out of the state.
“It is so rare that a teacher leaves for any negative reason that I can’t even think of an example,” she said.
Warwick does not have many of the markers the study mentioned attributes to high attrition rates, but Rhode Island nonetheless is affected. For more information on teacher attrition or to read the “On the Path to Equity” report, visit www.all4ed.org.