SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: February 2021 – COVID-19 Effects on Teacher Retention and Attrition

By Jhoselin Beltran Contreras, Policy Fellow

This month, the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its efforts to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The February 2021 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Research and Development (RAND) Corporation, which examines why teachers are leaving the profession during COVID-19, and one from the American Educational Research Association (AERA), which examines teacher turnover in early childhood education. 

As we have done in previous posts, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

“Stress Topped the Reasons Why Public School Teachers Quit, Even Before COVID-19,” Research and Development (RAND) Corporation, February 2021

Summary: Educators have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The report presented the results gathered from a survey of nearly 1,000 former public school teachers from November and December 2020, and revealed how critical stress has been to teachers deciding to leave the profession. 

Some of their key findings include: 

  • Almost half of the public school teachers who voluntarily stopped teaching in public schools after March 2020 and before their scheduled retirement left because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • For some teachers, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have exacerbated what were high-stress levels pre-pandemic by forcing teachers to, among other things, work more hours and navigate an unfamiliar remote environment, often with frequent technical problems.
  • Many early leavers could be lured back to public school teaching. Over half of the teachers who voluntarily left the profession early primarily because of the pandemic indicated that they would be somewhat or definitely willing to return to public school teaching once most staff and students are vaccinated. Slightly fewer of those would return if there was only regular testing of staff and students for COVID-19.
  • Stress was the most common reason for leaving public school teaching early—almost twice as common as insufficient pay. This is corroborated by the fact that a majority of early leavers went on to take jobs with either less or around equal pay, and three in ten went on to work at a job with no health insurance or retirement benefits.
  • Of the teacher leavers who are currently employed, about three in ten hold a non education-related job, another three in ten have a different type of teaching position, and the rest are in non teaching education jobs. 

The RAND researchers found that for those teacher leavers who are still in education, more flexibility was the most common attribute that attracted them to their new job. RAND recommends that districts involve teachers when developing responses geared toward reducing teacher stress. They also recommend districts and state departments of education should consider ways to increase flexibility in teachers’ schedules during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the long term.

State Board Context: 

Teacher Retention Survey Report (2020)

The State Board of Education has been working on teacher retention since 2018. In April 2020, the State Board considered the findings from a survey of recently exited public-school teachers. The survey report explored why teachers voluntarily resign/quit and it found that:

  • IMPACT was the primary departure driver in DCPS
  • Burdens of work culture and workload were primary departure reasons in public charter schools
  • Lack of support for teacher safety and mental health led to departure
  • Tensions with school leaders created hostile work environments

Across both sectors, the vast majority (66 percent) of respondents voluntarily resigned/quit, with most of the other respondents indicating they were terminated, left due to downsizing (6 percent), on temporary contracts (4 percent), or retired (4 percent).

The full report can be accessed here.

Upcoming: All-Teacher Survey (March 2021)

Additionally, the State Board has partnered with Resonant Education and launched an online survey of teachers from public and public charter schools in the District of Columbia. The State Board sought to better understand the experiences of teachers during virtual teaching, their perceptions of their student’s success in virtual learning, their thoughts on returning to in-person teaching, and how supported they have felt during the 2020-21 school year. After receiving over 1,000 teacher responses to the survey from 185 different schools representing every single DC Public School (DCPS) and the majority of public charter schools, the State Board will begin to aggregate the results of the survey and discuss takeaways that will be published in the final report, which is set to be released in mid to late March 2021.

“New Evidence on Teacher Turnover in Early Childhood,” American Educational Research Association (AERA), January 2021

Summary: Researchers provided a systemwide look at early childhood teacher turnover using data from all publicly funded, center-based early childhood programs in Louisiana, including subsidized child care, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten. New evidence was found on the prevalence of turnover and researchers explored whether teachers who leave differ from those who stay on a widely used measure of teacher–child interaction quality. They used a sample of 5,900 teachers in 1,500 programs in Louisiana.

Researchers found that more than one-third of teachers observed at their program in 2017–2018 were not teaching there the following year. This is more than twice the rate estimated for K–12 teachers (Goldring et al., 2014; Redding & Henry, 2018). The figure also shows large differences in turnover across sectors and child age. For instance, while about one-fourth of teachers working in school-based settings were no longer teaching at their program the following year, nearly half of child care teachers (46%) stopped teaching at their program from one year to the next.

State Board Context:

ECDataWorks is a research organization that collaborates with states to help attain their early childhood education goals through the innovative use of integrated data. 

On February 23, 2021, Policy Analysts Alexander Jue and Darren Flesicher presented at ECDataWorks’ national meeting on Building Resilient Data Analytics. Here, they presented the State Board of Education’s 2020 Teacher Retention Survey Report. 

These sessions were closed, but if you would like to learn more about ECDataWorks, please check them out here

The State Board has also revised their committees, and their Educator Practice committee works to support teachers and teacher retention. 

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