What Causes Teachers to Leave?

A new meta-analysis synthesizes the findings from 120 research papers on the causes of teacher attrition and retention. Contrary to popular opinion, perhaps, they find that measuring and acting on differences in teacher quality does not lead to decreased morale or higher attrition rates:

Being evaluated, even for accountability purposes, does not necessarily increase teacher attrition; in fact, the odds of attrition for teachers who are assessed are somewhat smaller than those who are not. In terms of teacher effectiveness, higher quality teachers are less likely to exit than lower quality teachers, and there is evidence that teachers in the lowest quartile or quintile of value-added scores are more likely to leave teaching. Relatedly, teachers in merit pay programs are less likely to leave teaching than those who are not.

Specifically on the question of evaluations and merit pay, they write:

Moreover, contrary to some concerns about the negative effects of teacher evaluations and accountability (Darling-Hammond, 2013; Darling-Hammond, Amrein-Beardsley, Haertel, & Rothstein, 2012), we do not find that performance evaluations necessarily increase teacher attrition. The extant empirical evidence suggests that when teachers are evaluated and their measures of effectiveness are available to them, this does not increase attrition, but in fact, it may provide teachers with some sense of empowerment and the possibility of growth and improvement since they can observe where they are effective and where they are not, leading to a decrease in attrition (Boyd et al., 2008; Feng, 2010). Furthermore, even when teacher evaluations are being used for accountability, bonuses, or pay raises, we observe that teachers are less, not more, likely to leave teaching. Relatedly, we also have evidence that evaluation and accountability may improve the teacher workforce by keeping the most effective teachers and removing the most ineffective teachers. In short, evaluation and accountability may be perceived more positively by teachers and can have positive effects for teachers than have been recognized. We note this does not mean that there are not any negative consequences or warranted concerns about teacher evaluation and accountability, but rather as a policy tool, there may indeed be merit to evaluation and accountability.

Read the whole meta-analysis here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman