Because half the nation’s teachers—approximately 1.72 million—are expected to retire in the next decade, a huge number of teachers will be needed to fill this gap. These teachers should be ready to teach today’s 21st century students. States have developed many approaches to attract teachers to the classroom. Both states and the federal government offer scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to prospective teachers, especially those who are willing to teach in urban and rural schools and those who will teach in shortage areas. States and districts also have experimented with bonuses to lure teachers to hard-to-staff schools and subjects, with mild success. State and district alternative preparation and licensure programs provide simpler routes to teaching for mid-career professionals or high-achieving college graduates who may want to teach in high-need schools.
Some argue, however, that the projected gap in the teaching force does not result from an inability to recruit teachers; rather, it is the result of too many experienced teachers leaving the classroom. In fact, as many as a third of teachers leave the profession in their first three years, and almost 50 percent leave after five years. Teacher attrition has grown by 50 percent during the past 15 years. The national teacher turnover rate has risen to 16.8 percent. In urban schools, it is more than 20 percent and, in some schools and districts, the teacher dropout rate is actually higher than the student dropout rate. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) argues that this turnover drains resources, diminishes quality and undermines schools’ ability to close the achievement gap.
We do know that, in order to be successful, new teachers need strong support and veteran teachers need ongoing, high-quality professional learning. State policy plays an important role in creating and supporting effective programs. For more information on this topic, visit NCSL’s Legislator’s Guide to Educator Effectiveness Policies.
Questions for Legislators to Ask about Recruitment and Retention
As legislators consider policies to recruit and retain effective teachers, they may want to seek answers to the following questions to gain a deeper understanding of state policies and practices.
- What are the teacher shortage areas in your state—special education, STEM, urban or rural?
- Does your state prepare enough teachers in these shortage areas?
- Do your institutions of higher education work to recruit and prepare teachers for these shortage areas?
- What is the average number of years of experience of teachers in your state?
- How many teachers will likely retire in the next decade in your state?
- What policies are in place in your state and districts to recruit teachers in high-need subjects and hard-to-staff schools and to recruit a diverse teaching force?
- What evidence is there that your teacher recruitment and retention policies are effective?
- What policies are in place in your state and districts to retain effective teachers?
- Has your state or have districts surveyed teachers about why they stay and leave (working conditions studies)? What was the participation rate? How is your state or districts using this information to inform recruitment and retention policies?
- Has your state estimated the cost of teacher turnover in terms of both the direct costs of replacing teachers who have left and the costs to student learning and the school environment?
State Policy Options for Recruitment and Retention
The following policy options are among those states are considering to recruit and retain effective educators.
- Commission a study of the number of teachers who are estimated to stay, leave and retire in the next decade, determining the teacher shortage areas in the state.
- Commission a study of the cost of teacher turnover in your state to quantify the gains that could be realized by effectively stemming turnover. To provide the data necessary to refine retention policies, ensure that the study provides some measure of the effectiveness of teachers who leave using multiple measures, including reliable measures of student performance.
- Implement and support programs that specifically recruit and support diverse teacher candidates.
- Implement and support programs that specifically target teachers in the geographic and subject-matter shortage areas, such as preparation programs that partner with high-need districts, bonuses or loan forgiveness programs for teachers who teach and stay in high-need schools, quality systems of educator supports and professional learning, and compensation systems that reward effective teachers in high-need areas.
- With support and design assistance from stakeholders, create career ladders for teachers that reward professional growth and learning.
- With support and design assistance from stakeholders, create a statewide compensation system that rewards effective teaching, or remove state policy barriers that might prevent districts from implementing this system if they desire to do so.
- Conduct statewide teacher working conditions and teacher perception studies to determine why teachers stay and leave and what policies might be helpful to address recruitment and retention, such as effective professional learning systems. Consider conducting this survey every two years to determine whether conditions are improving and to analyze policies.
- Conduct exit interviews to determine why teachers leave and use the results to update state and district policy.
- Hold school and district leaders accountable for improvement based on survey results.
Questions for Legislators to Ask about Support for New Teachers
As legislators consider policies to ensure high-quality induction and mentoring for new teachers, they may want to seek answers to the following questions to gain a deeper understanding of state policies and practices.
- Does your state require statewide induction and mentoring of new teachers or are these programs left to the discretion of local education agencies? Does your state require new educators to spend a minimum period of time in these programs?
- Are the programs outcome-based in that they specify skills new teachers should be able to demonstrate?
- Has your state developed design and performance standards for local programs?
- What requirements does your state have for those who serve as mentors? Are there training programs for mentors? Do you evaluate mentors? Do you allow full or partial release time from classroom duties for mentor teachers?
- Does your state provide funding for these programs or does funding come from local district budgets?
- Does your state monitor the quality of induction and mentoring programs? Who is responsible for monitoring, and how are the findings used to improve the programs?
State Policy Options to Support New Teachers
The following policy options are among those states are considering to ensure high-quality mentoring and induction programs for new teachers.
- Create and fund a statewide requirement for high-quality, research-based induction and mentoring of new teachers for licensure renewal.
- Establish standards for program design and implementation to establish a common vision for excellence.
- Establish a minimum number of years that new teachers must spend in their induction program and a minimum number of hours they must spend with mentors.
- Use rigorous mentor selection criteria that identify highly effective candidates as measured, in part, by reliable data on student performance and require training and ongoing professional learning on best practices in mentoring.
- Allow mentors full or partial release time from the classroom for mentoring responsibilities.
- Reward mentors with additional salary to compensate for additional responsibilities.
- Develop career paths for teacher leaders that include and reward assuming mentoring responsibilities.
- Dedicate a funding stream for mentoring and induction.
- Build in external evaluation requirements to ensure program effectiveness.
Questions for Legislators to Ask About Ongoing Support for Teachers
As legislators consider policies to ensure high-quality professional learning for teachers, they may want to seek answers to the following questions to gain a deeper understanding of state policies and practices.
- Does your state have a vision for professional learning?
- Does your state have standards for professional learning?
- Does your state evaluate whether professional learning is meeting those standards? How are evaluation findings used to strengthen professional learning?
- Does your state provide stable funding for professional learning that support time, personnel and technology?
- Do you have any specific requirements or support for training in the new Common Core State Standards, new assessments, or interpretation and use of data?
- What role does professional learning play in your new evaluation systems? Is it required? Is professional learning tailored to individual needs as identified in each teacher’s evaluation? Do teachers and principals work together to develop personalized plans?
- Do your school systems use instructional coaches to support teachers to make needed changes? How are coaches compensated, trained or certified? How is their role evaluated?
- Does your state ensure supports for new teachers, including induction and mentoring programs? Do these programs complement professional learning for veteran teachers?
- Does your state partner with professional organizations, universities or regional education service agencies for professional learning supports and training? How does your state ensure the partners’ work is aligned with state and district goals and that their services meet state standards for professional learning?
- How does professional learning help your state meet state and federal expectations for improving teaching and learning? Is this a strategy to turn around low-performing schools?
- Does your state require school districts to evaluate the effects of professional learning?
- How does your state support districts in allocating the time they need to support professional learning? What flexibility is offered to ensure teachers obtain the support during the work day when they most need it? What flexibility is offered to ensure teacher leaders have time during the school day to plan and deliver professional learning to other teachers?
- How do your state requirements for continuing licensure or certification tie to school and individual improvement plans? What incentives exist to ensure that educators translate new learning to practice and measure the effects on students?
- How is the legislature informed of the effectiveness of professional learning in the state?
State Policy Options for Ongoing Support for Teachers
The following policy options are among those states are considering to ensure the quality of educators’ professional learning.
- Adopt a statewide vision, standards and definition for professional learning that aligns with research and evidence-based practice.
- Establish and monitor clear goals for professional learning focused on teacher effectiveness and student success.
- Expect strong alignment among regional agencies, higher education, community colleges, technical schools, early childhood and K-12 schools.
- Establish a system for multi-tiered licensure and/or career paths that attracts, supports, qualifies and compensates teachers for assuming new responsibilities, such as instructional coaches, school improvement committee members and team leaders.
- Use teacher leaders—a built-in district resource—to plan and develop professional learning for other teachers.
- Analyze current policies and practices to identify fragmentation and inconsistencies, current expenditures in professional learning, equity of access to professional learning systems and evidence of effectiveness.
- Set guidelines for adequacy of resources—including funding, time, technology, staff and materials to support professional learning—and sustain resources for continuous improvement that ensure their equitable distribution.
- Provide flexibility to the state education agency and local school systems in organizing school schedules to support the time educators require to develop knowledge and skills necessary prepare to meet new standards and assessments
- Set briefing sessions regarding the state plan for implementing new initiatives and monitoring the effectiveness of legislation.