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With the high costs of teacher recruitment and training, education leaders are looking for ways to retain teachers both in their schools and in the profession. A new report from REL Central highlighting the predictors of teacher mobility and attrition in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota shows that while pay and working environment matter, a number of other factors can also contribute to a teacher’s likelihood of changing jobs.

The report Factors Related to Teacher Mobility and Attrition in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota describes an analysis of the three states’ combined data from between 2015/16 and 2016/17 conducted in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and South Dakota Department of Education. That analysis supports what many people might expect after reading news headlines over the last few years.

According to the report, 10 percent of teachers across all three states left the public school system or took nonteaching positions. Teachers who took nonteaching positions were more likely to be older, work less than half time, work in the district for fewer years, and earn a lower salary than teachers who stayed in their teaching positions. Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota teachers who moved to a different school, which was 8 percent of the workforce, were more likely to be a special education teacher, be older, work less than half-time, and teach in the same school for fewer years. Perhaps one of the more troubling concerns raised in the report was that special education teachers were 72 percent more likely to move than teachers of other subjects.

Front Cover of REL Central Report: Factors related to teacher mobility and attrition in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota
Teacher Retention, Mobility, and Attrition in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota

Interestingly, even as states focus on school improvement efforts, the report shows that teachers in schools with a low performance rating based on a state accountability system were more likely to move to a new school or leave the profession. In addition, teachers in schools with the highest proportion of racial/ethnic minority students were more likely to leave the profession or state system than those with the lowest proportions of minority students. In fact, teachers were 31.8 percent more likely to leave than were teachers in schools where racial/ethnic minority students accounted for 13 percent of the school population.

In addition to combined state data, the report also shows state-specific analysis that decision-makers may be able to use to set policy or create programs addressing teacher retention.

For example, Colorado data showed that salary was a top predictor for teachers moving from a school or leaving the profession or public school system. Colorado teachers earning less than $37,898 were 37 percent more likely to move to a different school and 65 percent more likely to leave a classroom teaching position than those earning $55,341 or more. Missouri teachers who were 49 years or older were 70 percent more likely to move to a different school than were those 40 to 48. And in South Dakota, special education teachers were 128 percent more likely to move to a different school than were any other teacher type.

“Decision-makers in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota plan to review the report,” said Emma Espel, a REL Central researcher who worked on the report. “They will be able to use information about the characteristics of teachers and schools most associated with teachers moving and leaving to design policies or practices to retain them.”

To read the study and find more state-specific results, please read Factors Related to Teacher Mobility and Attrition in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota.