Teacher Shortage & Student Achievement: Why Should We Care?

Within the past 5 years there has been a clarion call about the teacher crisis.  But to stop the bleeding, we have to improve school working conditions to reduce teacher attrition.  The Jacksonville Public Education Fund discussion on millennial teachers notes that there is a significant decline in students entering into teacher preparation programs.  In 2015, only 4.2% of incoming UCLA freshmen were likely to select education as a career.  To put this into perspective that is down from 9.9% just a decade earlier.  The teacher shortage is real.  Jacksonville is not the only jurisdiction concerned with this.  Georgia published The Dropout Crisis and sounded the alarm highlighting the top 8 reasons for this crisis.  The Georgia report further states that teachers are not recommending the profession.

Both the Jacksonville and Georgia studies do more than alert us of the problem.  They make recommendations.  Of course, increasing teacher pay is one recommendation.  But it is not the only.  In fact, the Georgia study ranks it as the fifth major reason for why current teachers do not recommend the profession.  Higher ranking than poor pay is the outdated workflows that burn teachers out.  The Georgia study included 53,000 surveys.  19,000 of those surveyed complained about the lack of time.  The time spent on “non-teaching school responsibilities/duties” drains our teachers of their passion for educating our children. 

Each year, we are asked to do more with less and less support, funding, training, and adequate resources. -Elementary school teacher (Bryan) 

The Dropout Crisis p. 5

The 2018 Millennials in Education report recommends that schools:  “Update the profession to reflect the Millennial generation of employees that are populating the workforce with advanced technology, creative control, etc.”  In other words, we have to automate processes and update the tools to match what millennials need and the speed of our 21st century world.  We cannot expect to attract and keep quality teachers with outdated snail mail workflows that were revolutionary in the 1970s.  

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund, (JPEF), takes a closer look at the teacher shortage issue in Duval County by examining placement, movement and retention patterns of over 2,000 new teachers over the past ten years.  Their research found that Duval County is losing on average about one of every two new hires within the first five years.

Why Care About the Teacher Shortage?

Student Achievement

Failing schools cry out for us to closely examine teacher attrition. The JPEF study shows why we should care.  If we really believe that the children are our future, then the teacher attrition crisis should terrify you.  To be clear, we are losing teachers before they reach their peak performance, which occurs after about 5 years. (TNTP, 2012) It just doesn’t make sense to continuously lose “the best young teachers just as they begin to ‘hit their stride’ and replac[e] them with new teachers at the beginning of that learning curve.”  Student achievement, a school’s core business, is connected to the quality of relationships between teachers, and between teachers and students, as well as “patterned norms” of interaction among colleagues.  In other words, “staff cohesion and community and school instructional program cohesion were also reported to be related to student achievement and were negatively disrupted by staff turnover.” John Hattie states that teacher-student relationships significantly impact student achievement .60 for encouraging higher order thinking. (p. 118-119)  Focusing on teacher attrition, therefore, is not a distraction from the student achievement work but rather is a necessary component of the school improvement work.

In the Opportunity to Teach and How Are the Children blogs,

 I discuss this teacher attrition impact further.

Teacher turnover harms student achievement.  In What Works in Schools, Marzano’s fifth school-level factor is collegiality and professionalism.  He cites Fullan and Hargreaves describing collegiality as “characterized by authentic interactions that are professional in nature…openly sharing failures and mistakes, demonstrating respect for each other, and constructively analyzing and criticizing practices and procedures.” (p. 61)  A safe and trusting environment is a prerequisite for authentic interactions and collegial conversations. It takes time and experience to form safe spaces where people feel comfortable to have “authentic interactions”.  As district and building leaders, we have to reduce teacher attrition, in all of its forms (i.e., absenteeism, moving to other schools, and leaving the profession) to adequately improve student achievement.

School Financial Efficiency

Teacher attrition negatively affects student achievement and finances.  The Duval County proves that the recruitment, induction, and training costs of replacing departing teachers typically runs in the millions of dollars per year for urban districts.  Therefore, teacher attrition drains our finances. Unfortunately, the Jacksonville Public School District represents the norm across America.  The 2005 Alliance for Excellent Education Issue Brief conservatively estimates the attrition cost to be $2.2 billion annually, “not to mention the immeasurable costs to students that this instability can foster.”   


Financial efficiency, in some states, is part of the school evaluation system.  Hence, we need to seriously recognize that addressing teacher attrition as a real effort to improve school ratings.  

One may ask, what does this mean?  What are the causes and solutions for teacher attrition? We will address these questions in a future blog.  For now, I hope this entry further piques interest in the issue.  I also pray that it sparks conversations on approaching school improvement differently.  Better still, I wish that we re-frame the complaining teacher as a formative assessment providing real-time leading data for us to improve schools.  

Let’s begin the conversation here. What do you think are some causes and solutions to the teacher attrition crisis?