New Measures of Teacher Turnover Can Reveal Underlying Chronic Staffing Problems in Schools
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Teacher quality is one of the most important predictors of students’ educational and professional outcomes. But student success can be undermined by teacher turnover. Teacher turnover is particularly high in high-poverty urban schools, with some losing up to one-half of their staff in a single year. The authors term this chronic teacher turnover as instability. Staff instability can be a significant drain on limited school resources because school leaders must perpetually search for, hire, and train new teachers. Staff instability can also lead to the loss of experienced and effective teachers and disrupt existing social ties and networks of support, leading to the loss of institutional knowledge. This instability can cripple school functioning and prevent improvement, which then can negatively impact student achievement. Researchers and policymakers commonly measure teacher turnover using an annual turnover rate. While this measure can be helpful in flagging schools that have experienced recent staffing churn, it does not describe whether schools may be suffering from temporary (or even healthy) turnover or whether they have struggled with deeper turnover problems for years. Long-term measures, by contrast, help illuminate the nuances—and severity—of the turnover problems that schools face over time. This brief describes a typology of teacher turnover measures and illustrates them with findings from ten years of administrative data in Texas. Measures include both those currently in use as well as new ones developed by the authors. These measures explain different ways in which staff instability can negatively affect schools. They can also help identify schools that suffer from particularly severe staff shortages.