NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Work Conditions Affect Teacher Retention

January 5, 2004

Each year, approximately one-fifth of all teachers nationwide leave the career of education entirely or leave urban for suburban schools, say researchers. This leaves schools with higher concentrations of disadvantaged and low achieving students with fewer experienced teachers (who are, on average, more effective at raising student performance than inexperienced teachers).

The reason for the migration, say researchers, is not primarily pay, but working conditions associated with teaching such students and their own preferences. Researchers in the University of Texas at Dallas's Texas Schools Project analyzed data on all Texas elementary-level teachers, students and schools for 1993 through 1996. They found that overall:

  • Teachers with less than 10 years' experience gained only about $100 a year in pay by switching schools.
  • Teachers were more likely to leave districts with low average achievement scores -- the average job-switcher moved to a district with achievement levels on the standardized state test that were three percentile points higher on a 100-point scale.
  • Teachers tend to move to school districts with fewer minority and lower income students -- the districts to which teachers moved had 2 percentage points fewer African-American students, 4.4 percentage points fewer Hispanic students and 6 percent fewer low-income students.

The salaries of teachers who moved from urban to suburban districts actually declined by 0.7 percent, on average. However, the average achievement in the new districts increased 14 percentile points, and the shares of African-American and Hispanic students decreased by 14 and 20 percentage points, respectively.

Because teachers appear unresponsive to salary levels, it would take enormous increases of 25 to 40 percent to stem these flows, say the researchers. Instead, policymakers should consider selective pay increases, preferably keyed to quality, for work in inner-city schools, together with efforts to improve the working conditions in these schools.

Source: Eric Hanushek, John Kain, and Steven Rivkin, "The Revolving Door," Education Next, Winter 2004; Kent Fischer, "Study: Pay not Key to Teacher Satisfaction," Dallas Morning News, December 29, 2003.


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