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Press Release · February 15, 2006

Turnover Of New Teachers In California: Can It Hurt Student Achievement? Jeopardize Federal Funding?

Professional Development May Be Best Way to Retain New Hires

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 15, 2006 — If new teachers in California continue to leave their jobs at the same rate as they did in the 1990s, about one-fourth of new hires will be replacing other recently hired teachers who have left public school employment, according to a new study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Why does it matter? There are at least two good reasons. One, numerous studies show that experienced teachers are more effective at raising student test scores than inexperienced teachers. Two, new teachers are less likely to be fully credentialed. In California, adherence to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires that teachers either be fully credentialed or participate in an internship program – otherwise schools risk losing their federal funding.

The study tracks California teachers during their first seven years of employment, finding that 13 percent of new hires leave within their first or second year and 22 percent leave by the end of their fourth year. The numbers are even higher among teachers of grades seven through twelve – 27 percent leave by year four. For those who teach kindergarten through sixth grade, the attrition rate is only slightly lower, at 20 percent. If these trends from 1990 to 2000 continue, 25 percent of the state’s new teachers will be replacements for other new teachers who are leaving the public schools.

This high level of turnover exacerbates other education challenges for California, including the state’s shortage of credentialed teachers. Case in point? In 2004-05, one-quarter (25%) of newly hired California teachers lacked full credentials, compared to 11 percent of those who had five years of experience. The deficiency is particularly troubling because uncredentialed teachers are heavily concentrated in high poverty school districts where test scores are relatively low.

“Unfortunately, these are the very schools where experienced, credentialed teachers are really needed the most,” says PPIC program director Deborah Reed, who co-authored the study with PPIC adjunct fellow Kim Rueben and PPIC policy analyst Elisa Barbour. “Continuous turnover prevents the teacher workforce in California from developing into a more experienced one, something that will likely hurt disadvantaged students the most.”

It is not the case that teachers who enter the profession without full credentials have higher drop-out rates. Rather, teachers who stay longer tend to become credentialed, the study finds. This suggests that a greater focus on retention may be warranted, especially in light of NCLB requirements.

The report, Retention of New Teachers in California, finds that professional development programs are a successful, cost-effective way of retaining new teachers – even more so than higher salaries. For example, participation in a teacher development program for elementary school teachers improved retention by 26 percent, while a starting salary increase of $4,400 increased retention of new elementary school teachers by only 17 percent. The report’s authors stress, however, that compensation remains an important factor.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.