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Want to Boost Teacher Retention? Expand Student Loan-Forgiveness Programs

This is the third piece of a five-part conversation on the teacher supply.

Nikhil Laud

As an urban school teacher for the past 13 years, I've had the pleasure of working with numerous talented, creative, and selfless colleagues. While it's been inspirational to see so many young faces among the teaching corps, it also serves as a stark reminder: Of the original cohort of new teachers working at my present school, I'm the only one left.

Seeing so many people leave the profession after one, two, or three years has been truly unfortunate. Not only do students suffer from the influx of so many brand new teachers, most who are unprepared to take over a classroom by themselves, but there is a detrimental psychological effect on veteran teachers of knowing you hold a job that so many will not remain in.

While there are numerous reasons for low teacher-retention rates, one of the most common reasons is financial, typically the high cost of going through teacher training coupled with low teacher salaries. It is shameful that in the United States, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, teachers have to shoulder so great a financial burden. However, there are solutions to this problem that are both reasonable and feasible.

As a public school teacher in Los Angeles, I qualified for an APLE loan forgiveness program, which amounted to $1,500 per year for the first three years of service. However, given my considerable student-loan debt, this amount was a drop in the bucket, and ultimately I had to give serious consideration to leaving the profession in search of a more financially lucrative job. While disconnecting myself from the scholars' lives I hoped to transform was ultimately too difficult for me, many of my colleagues with similar financial dilemmas have since left the teaching profession.

So it would help if teachers, particularly those serving our high-need student populations, were given immediate and substantive loan relief. This would have the added advantage of drawing undergraduates from low-income backgrounds to more strongly consider entering the profession. Recruiting low-income teachers, while not a cure-all, is step in creating a teacher workforce that more directly understands the realities affecting our most disadvantaged youth populations.

To incentivize teacher retention, this loan relief could be contingent upon years of service and include the option to have student-loan debt nullified, should a teacher continue working with our nation's most disadvantaged youth for seven years. 

If we as a nation are in any way committed to providing a high-quality education for all of our country's youth, then holding on to our effective teachers should be a national priority. And if it's a priority, state governments should put their money into ensuring that retaining effective teachers becomes a reality.

Nikhil Laud has over a decade of experience teaching in urban schools, both public and charter. His work as a highly effective educator has been recognized by the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, the National Society of High School Scholars, and the America Achieves Foundation.

Read more from this roundtable discussion on teacher recruitment and retention.

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