Leaving Teachers

One of the important issues in the economics of education is understanding which teachers quit the profession. Theory doesn’t give a clear answer on this. On the one hand, underperforming teachers might find the job to be harder, so could be more likely to depart; but on the other hand, high-performing teachers might have better job opportunities in other occupations.

A new empirical analysis by a team of New York economists (including Hamp Lankford, who spoke at the ANU teacher quality conference I organised last year) finds that the news is mixed. Overall, quitters tend to be less effective than stayers. But in struggling schools, the best teachers tend to get poached away.

Who Leaves? Teacher Attrition and Student Achievement
by Donald Boyd, Pam Grossman, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, James Wyckoff
Almost a quarter of entering public-school teachers leave teaching within their first three years. High attrition would be particularly problematic if those leaving were the more able teachers. The goal of this paper is estimate the extent to which there is differential attrition based on teachers’ value-added to student achievement. Using data for New York City schools from 2000-2005, we find that first-year teachers whom we identify as less effective at improving student test scores have higher attrition rates than do more effective teachers in both low-achieving and high-achieving schools.  The first-year differences are meaningful in size; however, the pattern is not consistent for teachers in their second and third years. For teachers leaving low-performing schools, the more effective transfers tend to move to higher achieving schools, while less effective transfers stay in lower-performing schools, likely exacerbating the differences across students in the opportunities they have to learn.

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2 Responses to Leaving Teachers

  1. conrad says:

    Reading these economics papers and looking at ideas presented on blogs (like this one), I can’t help but notice the massive gap between economists and psychologists trying to answer often essentially the same questions. It seems to me that if economists really want to know why teachers are leaving (and so forth), they are going to have to start looking into all those fiddly variables social and personality psychologists love, which unfortunately are not measured in these mega surveys. Thinking of your constant suggestion of randomized trials, I imagine pulling much smaller groups of random samples from these much larger pools and then examining them on some of those variables might be worthwhile.

  2. Stuart Graham says:

    In the initial year the least able leave, that is the least able to teach and control the class. Class management is extremely difficult, especially in low permforming schools. The next two years are not related to performance, therefore, I would suggest as an Economist (University Lecturer) and ex secondary teacher, the reason for leaving the profession are quite simple. Teaching is very stressful and wages compared to other professions low, the longer you are a teacher compared to a similar stressful job the further you fall behind. I took my economics degree into teaching as a business and maths teacher, I left after three years completed a Masters and received a 40% pay rise, better conditions and satisfaction teaching in University. Do I miss the bullying management style and aggressive unemployed and often drunk/drugged parents, no; the children who deserve better, yes. But I also have children and they come first.

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