The literature reviewed to address this question reveals some consistent patterns that confirm statistics commonly cited in contemporary discussions. There is strong evidence that teacher attrition is most severe among beginning teachers but that the likelihood of a teacher leaving declines significantly after he or she has been in the classroom for four to five years and then increases again markedly after 25-30 years in the profession. Some 50% of teachers leave their initial assignment - but not necessarily the profession itself - in the first five years of their career. There is limited evidence that younger beginning teachers are more likely to leave than those slightly older.
The literature also indicates younger women are the most likely to leave teaching, and there is moderate evidence that pregnancy and childrearing are key reasons why. This means it is possible a significant number of women who quit to raise a family return to teaching once their children are older, a possibility consistent with the limited evidence. Consistent with this possibility, several studies provide limited evidence that women who enter teaching at a more mature age are much less likely to leave than those who begin teaching when they are much younger.
The literature reviewed also provides moderate evidence that white teachers have greater rates of attrition than either African American or Hispanic teachers, and it offers limited evidence that minority teachers are more likely than white teachers to remain in schools with higher proportions of minority students.
With regard to the relationship between academic qualifications and teacher attrition, the literature reviewed provides limited evidence that teachers teaching in a field in which they have subject expertise or certification are less likely to leave than teachers with less appropriate qualifications. It provides strong evidence that attrition is greater among middle school and high school teachers than among elementary school teachers, and it provides moderate evidence that science and mathematics teachers are more likely to leave their jobs than secondary teachers of other subjects.
With regard to the impact of intellectual proficiency, the literature provides limited evidence that teachers with high intellectual proficiency are more likely to leave teaching than teachers with significantly lower intellectual proficiency.
On the relationship of several other teacher characteristics to attrition, the literature is inconclusive.These include a teacher's academic degree; their socioeconomic status; and their beliefs, values and attitudes.
Finally, the literature is inconclusive on the issue of how attrition in teaching compares with that in other occupations, and there is no consensus on what a reasonable rate of attrition in teaching might be.
One of the policy implications that would seem to follow from the research is, particularly in view of the difficulty of significantly increasing minority representation in the teaching profession, it is important to examine more closely the reasons why white teachers leave schools with high percentages of minority students and to develop appropriate strategies that may lessen that tendency. Of particular importance is stemming the attrition of teachers - whether white or minority - who teach mathematics and science. Also worthy of study are the reasons for the higher rate of attrition among the more intellectually capable teachers and appropriate policy responses. Some of these many involve fiscal considerations, which will be discussed in Question 5.
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