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How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement

Issue/Topic: Teaching Quality--Recruitment and Retention
Author(s): Ronfeldt, Mathew; Wyckoff, James; Loeb, Susanna
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published On: 10/23/2012

Background:
Teacher turnover rates can be high, particularly in schools serving low-income, non-White, and low-achieving student populations. However, surprisingly little research has assessed the causal effect of teacher turnover on student achievement.

Purpose:
To determine whether teacher turnover has a direct effect on student achievement and to explore possible mechanisms to account for the observed effect

Findings/Results:

What is the average effect of teacher turnover on student achievement?
  • Teacher turnover harms student achievement. More specifically, the results indicate that within the same school and within the same year, students in grade levels that experience 100% turnover have lower test scores by 7.4% to 9.6% of a standard deviation in math and by 6% to 8.3% of a standard deviation in ELA (English language arts), as compared to grade levels with no turnover at all.

Are the effects different for different kinds of schools?

  • Teacher turnover has a significant and negative impact on student achievement in both math and ELA (English language arts).  Moreover, teacher turnover is particularly harmful to the achievement of students in schools with large populations of low-performing and Black students.
  • Turnover has a negative and mostly significant harmful effect on student achievement across kinds of schools (big/small, old/new).

What explains the relationship between teacher turnover and student achievement?

  • Teachers' prior effectiveness does not appear to explain fully the harmful effects of turnover on student achievement in lower achieving schools.
  • Students of teachers who remain in the same grade and school from one year to the next perform significantly worse when turnover is greater, and the negative effects are mostly found in lower-performing schools. Staff cohesion and community are related to student engagement and achievement; thus, the quality of relationships and the trust between teachers, and between teachers and students, predicts student achievement.
  • Because they bear much of the responsibility for mentoring new teachers about school expectations and programs, teachers who stay in the same grade and school from one year to the next (stayers) can also be affected by turnover.  Stayers carry more of the instructional burden and have less professional development resources available to them, as the available resources get used up on new hires.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

  • More effective teachers are at least as likely, and sometimes more likely, to stay in schools than their less-effective peers and that this is true even in schools with historically underserved student populations.  
  • Schools would benefit from policies aimed at keeping grade-level teams intact over time, and should introduce incentives and structures to retain teachers that might leave otherwise. Implementing such policies may be especially important in schools with large populations of low-performing and Black students, where turnover has the strongest negative effect on student achievement.

Research Design:
Longitudinal quantitative study

Population/Participants/Subjects:
850,000 New York City 4th and 5th grade students were observed for 8 years

Year data is from:
2001-2002, and 2005-2010

Setting:
District

Data Collection and Analysis:
Identification strategy and two classes of fixed-effects regression models

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