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Which Teachers Will Quit?

Teacher turnover has long been known as a serious problem, with nearly half of new teachers bailing out within their first five years in the classroom. Although their reasons for doing so are also quite familiar by now, teaching can take a page from business, where efforts are underway to identify employees deemed likely to jump ship and prevent them from doing so ("The Algorithm That Tells the Boss Who Might Quit," The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 14).

Companies take into account a variety of factors that they believe help them identify flight risks. Although there is no single factor that reliably does so, data scientists believe that future models will narrow down the possibilities.  However, the problem still remains: What to do with the information?

It's the latter that is most relevant to teaching. Principals have to be careful that their best intentions are not misinterpreted.  For example, in an attempt to retain the best performing teachers by addressing their concerns, will their intervention be seen as violating the confidential remarks the teachers perhaps made to a counselor?

But costs also come into play.  According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, the cost of teacher turnover nationwide is about $7.34 billion a year.  (The estimate does not include the cost of teachers who move from school to school within a district in search of a better position.)  The cost per teacher varies from district to district. One study by NCTAF in 2007 reported a range from $4,366 in rural Jemez Valley to $17,872 in Chicago.

In the private sector, the median cost of turnover for most jobs is about 21 percent of an employee's annual salary, according to the Center for American Progress.  That comes down to about $3,341 to hire a replacement, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

I've written before why I believe that too much attention has been placed on recruiting teachers and not enough on retaining them.  It's the latter that is going to become more of a problem in the years ahead, as the reality of the classroom shatters the idealism of new teachers.  That's why far greater efforts must be made to address the concerns that cause the best teachers to leave. In medicine, the quip is that pathologists know all the answers - only too late.  Let's hope the same can't be said about teachers.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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