Good news: Has teacher turnover finally hit its peak?

K12 leaders say staffing pressures are easing this school year though they are still grappling with shortages of substitutes, special education teachers, and bus drivers.

Here’s the positive education news: Evidence is emerging that an exodus of teachers and principals from our schools may have peaked. And here’s more good news: Superintendents and their teams are finding success with the strategies they have deployed to reverse the staff shortages exacerbated by the turbulence of the past few years.

District leaders report that one in 10 of their teachers retired or resigned during the 2021–2022 school year, a 4% increase of 114,000 teachers over pre-pandemic levels. Principal turnover was more severe, hitting 16% by the beginning of this school year, according to the latest findings from the RAND Corporation’s closely watched American School District Panel Survey.

Teacher turnover might have crested in 2021–2022, hitting urban districts, high-poverty districts, and districts serving predominately students of color the hardest, while principal turnover was highest in high-poverty and rural school systems. K12 leaders surveyed by RAND also said staffing pressures are easing this school year though they are still grappling with shortages of substitutes, special education teachers, and bus drivers.

High-poverty districts continued to struggle with “considerable” vacancies in several teaching categories and across the board, teacher morale has cratered. “Evidence from superintendents suggests that at least some school leaders have decided to see the pandemic through before leaving, implying that resignations and retirements might begin to increase now that the pandemic is receding,” the report says.

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This survey statistic should come as no surprise: 90% of district leaders took significant actions—or saw new K12 policies enacted by their states—to combat teacher shortages. Those solutions are centered around three key areas: increasing salaries, growing teacher pipelines, and simplifying certification requirements.

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Nearly two-thirds of leaders said teacher pay had risen in their districts, either through salary increases or bonuses. Raises and bonuses were most common in rural districts. Leaders are also trying to smooth teachers’ paths into their classrooms:

  • 55% of leaders are creating or expanding a grow-your-own program for teachers
  • 36% made it easier for teachers to gain certifications while on the job
  • 28% reduced teacher certification requirements
  • 23% simplified the hiring process, such as by shortening applications
  • 10% eased certification requirements for their existing teachers

Going forward, the report encourages district leaders and other education officials to give principals the same kind of policy attention as teachers in efforts to retain building leaders. The education community as a whole also needs to dig deeper into how the jobs of building leaders are changing, says the report, which warns against lowering educator qualification requirements to fill empty positions.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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