Teacher Turnover Costs Systems Millions, Study Projects

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007

An independent report released yesterday estimates that the high rate of teacher turnover in U.S. school systems costs more than $7 billion a year, with systems including the District and Prince George's and Fairfax counties hardest hit.

The report, by the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, is based on a study of school systems in Chicago, Milwaukee and Granville County in North Carolina, as well as the Jemez Valley and Santa Rosa systems in New Mexico. The findings from the five systems allowed the commission to create a calculator to estimate the costs of teacher turnover at school systems across the country.

The calculator estimated that the District pays $16.6 million a year to recruit and train new teachers who replace those who retire, quit or leave for other jobs. In Prince George's, the cost was estimated at $23.3 million; Fairfax pays an estimated $28.4 million.

The "findings are a clear indication that America's teacher dropout problem is spiraling out of control," the report said.

The study said that so many teachers leaving the profession creates a self-perpetuating cycle of failure in some school systems, as a lack of experienced mentors and a sink-or-swim environment lead to trouble in the classroom and demoralization. Nationally, about 50 percent of teachers leave their jobs within their first five years, according to a study last year by the National Education Association, a teachers union.

In Maryland, a state study of teacher staffing issued in October showed an attrition rate in Prince George's of 11 percent. It was 5.5 percent in Montgomery County and 7.7 percent in Anne Arundel County. But the figures did not include teachers who transferred from one county to another; Florie Bozzella, director of human resources for the Anne Arundel system, said its turnover rate for the 2005-06 school year was 11 percent.

Replacing the teachers is not cheap, the commission's staff said in a news conference yesterday.

"Most districts underestimated what the costs were," said Tom Carroll, president of the commission. "When they started to look at the full package of costs, they were quite surprised."

According to Benjamin Schaefer, a program manager who worked on the report, the costs included advertising and traveling to job fairs; hiring incentives and signing bonuses; the administrative processing and training of new recruits; mentoring and professional development for all teachers; salaries for substitutes; and separation costs if a teacher chose to quit.

Carroll said that while a certain amount of teacher turnover is inevitable, the study showed that systems that had tackled the problem made swift improvements in teacher retention. The study included examples such as a pilot program in Las Vegas that increased three-year retention rates to 85 to 95 percent in 12 schools.

Area school officials had not heard about the study before its release and were still examining the details.

But the findings were no surprise to Carol Kilby, president of the Prince George's County Educators' Association. "It's a huge, huge, huge loss, and we're just throwing money away that could be used for a better purpose," she said.

The low pay of teachers and the rigors of the work contribute to attrition, Kilby said, but there is also a deeper philosophical change that makes people less likely to stay with the same job for 20 to 30 years.

"I don't know if people go into it with that starry-eyed expectation anymore," she said.

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