Mass Teacher Exodus? Not So, Says Georgetown Expert

If half of all teachers *aren’t* leaving the profession, what is really going on?
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It is common in education policy circles to argue that half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. This claim serves as a springboard for policy proposals like, per teachers union recommendations, raising teacher salaries, hiring more teachers, and making use of federal stimulus funds. Texas, in particular, is listening to these claims, as Governor Greg Abbott recently announced the creation of a task force to address teacher shortages within the state. 

However, Chad Alderman, an expert in education finance and teacher economics at Georgetown’s Edunomics Lab, says that this argument is “a persistent myth that just won’t die.”

That 50% number, according to Alderman, is simply wrong. He pointed to a 2007 article by Education Week that found that in most states, the number is closer to 25-30%. Alderman also cited more recent data, including a Center for American Progress report that said only 30% of teachers leave the profession within five years, and a 2015 federal brief that identified the number as being 23%. 

So if half of all teachers *aren’t* leaving the profession, what is really going on? Alderman suggested that some studies, especially older ones, were incapable of differentiating between teachers that changed schools and teachers that left the profession entirely. He added that many studies also included private school teachers, and as private schools often have much higher teacher turnover than public schools, their inclusion may well have skewed these data. 

Furthermore, once those numbers are adjusted to an annualized rate, annual turnover among teachers comes out to be about 13% — and Alderman says even that is too high. 

“Even if the inflated stat is correct (which it’s not), a 13% annual turnover rate is, uh, not very high. Especially when we’re talking about early-career workers. Most industries would love to have turnover rates that low,” Alderman said

Alderman’s analysis has empirical merit to it. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made employment statistics more difficult to track, average employee turnover in the United States hovered at around 36% — an increase of more than 88% since 2010. This would imply that teachers are bucking the trend rather than setting it. 

Alderman hopes that policymakers and advocates will internalize more recent findings. “In short, the ‘half of all teachers leave within 5 years’ stat is bogus and misleading,” Alderman concluded. “Please stick to more current figures. And use annualized rates to give better context.”

Garion Frankel
Garion Frankel is a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service with a concentration in education policy and management. He is a Young Voices contributor, and Chalkboard Review’s breaking news reporter.

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