Retention downplayed as teacher-shortage solution in first talk of COE's distinguished-speaker series

A national education expert told a group of approximately 30 COE faculty and students that improved teacher retention efforts would not significantly impact the current teacher shortage.

Professor Erling “Ed” Boe, co-director of the Center for Research and Evaluation in Social Policy (CRESP) at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, spoke Nov. 30 in the Norman Hall Terrace Room on “Teacher Turnover: Issues and National Research.” His presentation was the first in the yearlong “21st Century Pathways in Education” distinguished-speaker series, sponsored by UF’s College of Education.

Boe discussed the three causes for teacher turnover: exit attrition (teachers leaving the field entirely); school attrition (teachers changing schools and school districts); and teaching area transfer, for example from special education to general education.

Although teacher attrition is often reported as a systemwide crisis, Boe used comparative data to show that the overall teacher turnover rate is not considerably greater than corporate attrition rates. Although attrition of new teachers is often reported as extremely high, Boe said that only 25 percent of teachers leaving the field entirely do so to “escape” unbearable teaching environments. Nine percent leave for professional development; 29 percent for personal or family reasons; 9 percent due to job actions; and 37 percent retire.

In 2004-05, the nationwide demand for newly hired public school teachers was 305,000. Reducing the number of new teachers “escaping” the field by half would only retain 30,000, with 275,000 new teachers still needed.

Boe said, “If we held an education bail-out and reduced escape attrition by 50 percent, we wouldn’t put a dent in the net demand for newly hired teachers.”

Therefore, in addition to efforts at making the teaching profession more appealing to increase teacher retention, Boe recommends increasing the supply of trained teachers, particularly in areas most affected by the shortage.

On Jan. 14, the second speaker in the series, James Paul Gee, will present “Video Games and 21st Century Learning.” Gee is the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University’s College of Education. His two most recent books are titled What Video Games gave to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy and Why Video Games are Good for Your Soul.