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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Teacher Workforce

May 2019


What research is available on methodological approaches used to measure and understand teacher retention?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on methodological approaches used to measure and understand teacher retention. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Finster, M. (2015). Identifying, monitoring, and benchmarking teacher retention and turnover: Guidelines for TIF grantees. Washington, DC: Teacher Incentive Fund, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Having a well-qualified, effective teacher in every classroom is a cornerstone of current educational reforms. Clearly, retaining these effective teachers is critical to achieving this goal. This brief presents a strategic accountability approach to managing teacher talent retention and turnover. The brief begins with an overview of a strategic approach to address teacher turnover and reviews the literature that underscores the importance of teacher retention. The brief then discusses actions Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grantees need to take to actively track teacher retention, mobility and turnover.”

Goff, P., Carl, B., & Yang, M. (2018). Supply and demand for public school teachers in Wisconsin (WCER Working Paper No. 2018-2). Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Education Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A pervasive challenge for Wisconsin and states across the nation is accurate assessment of teacher labor supplies at the state and local levels. Demand measures based on predictions of changing teacher and student demographics have been wildly inaccurate. This report presents findings on key features of the Wisconsin teacher labor market, including mobility, attrition, supply, and demand. The authors use data from multiple sources (including state staffing and credentialing files, application and vacancy information, and statewide survey data on perceptions of staffing challenges) to: (1) establish a common vocabulary around categories of labor supply—specifically which positions are high supply, which are medium supply, and which are low supply; (2) provide a baseline against which subsequent reports can build and future policies can be assessed; (3) provide a common base of empirical evidence to focus and foster debate; and (4) identify aspects of the teacher labor market that are problematic. This report provides evidence on teacher supply and demand in Wisconsin to help policymakers see which avenues are available to influence the complex dynamics of differential mobility, attrition, licensure, and selection across educator labor markets. This portrait of Wisconsin’s teacher labor market illustrates and defines key features to create a common understanding and vocabulary to engage emerging and persistent challenges. The authors organized this report around the following questions: (1) What are the prevailing trends in teacher attrition and mobility?; (2) What is the current supply of teachers?; (3) How are districts responding to staffing challenges?; and (4) Is there a teacher shortage in Wisconsin?”

Goldring, R., Taie, S., & Riddles, M. (2014). Teacher attrition and mobility: Results from the 2012-13 Teacher Follow-Up Survey (NCES 2014-077). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report presents selected findings from the Current Teacher and Former Teacher Data Files of the 2012-13 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS). TFS is a nationally representative sample survey of public and private school K-12 teachers who participated in the previous year’s Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). First fielded in school year 1988-89, TFS was designed as a component of SASS and was sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of SASS is to collect information that can provide a detailed picture of U.S. elementary and secondary schools and their staff. This information is collected through questionnaires sent to districts, schools, principals, teachers, and library media centers. Information from all of the surveys can be linked. The purpose of this First Look is to introduce new data through the presentation of tables containing descriptive information. Selected findings chosen for this report demonstrate the range of information available on the 2012-13 TFS data files. The tables in this report contain counts and percentages demonstrating bivariate associations. All of the results have been weighted to reflect the sample design and to account for nonresponse and other adjustments. Comparisons drawn in the selected findings have been tested for statistical significance at the 0.05 level using Student’s t statistics to ensure that the differences are larger than those that might be expected due to sampling variation. No adjustments were made for multiple comparisons. Many of the variables examined are related to one another, and complex interactions and relationships have not been explored. Statistical Analysis Software (SAS 9.3) and SUDAAN (11.0) were used to compute the statistics for this report. Appended are (1) Standard Error Tables; (2) Methodology and Technical Notes; and (3) Description of Variables.”

Holme, J. J., Jabbar, H., Germain, E., & Dinning, J. (2018). Rethinking teacher turnover: Longitudinal measures of instability in schools. Educational Researcher, 47(1), 62–75. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “While there is a robust literature examining the patterns and causes of teacher turnover, few articles to date have critically examined the measures of turnover used in these studies. Yet, an assessment of the way turnover is measured is important, as the measures become the means by which the ‘problem’ of turnover becomes defined and its varying dimensions understood. In this conceptual essay, we outline a typology of teacher turnover measures, discussing both measures used in existing teacher turnover literature as well as new measures that we have developed. We illustrate each of the measures using 10 years of administrative data from Texas. We discuss how the measures can help illuminate different ways in which staff instability can affect schools and identify schools that suffer from particularly severe staffing issues. We conclude with implications for policymakers and researchers who may seek to apply these measures to future empirical studies.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Lazarev, V., Toby, M., Zacamy, J., Lin, L., & Newman, D. (2017). Indicators of successful teacher recruitment and retention in Oklahoma rural schools (REL 2018-275). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recruiting and retaining effective teachers are serious concerns throughout Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (2016) reported 500 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the 2015/16 school year, according to a survey of school districts, and 53 percent of respondents said the teacher shortage was worse than in the previous year. For years, Oklahoma rural school district administrators have reported difficulty retaining teachers who could cross state lines for higher pay and lower class sizes or seek employment in other industries. In 2013 the Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction established the Oklahoma Educator Workforce Shortage Task Force to recommend measures to alleviate the ‘significant and widespread shortages’ of classroom teachers. The task force was succeeded in September 2015 by the Teacher Shortage Task Force, which was established to identify and recommend successful strategies for curbing the statewide teacher shortage crisis and which recommended several strategies for placing highly qualified teachers in all Oklahoma classrooms. The state’s teacher shortage, as well as the unique context of rural schools in Oklahoma, led members of the Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest Oklahoma Rural Schools Research Alliance to seek information about factors associated with successful teacher recruitment and retention in Oklahoma. The goal was to develop effective strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers in rural schools. In response, this study identified factors that can support teacher recruitment and retention, particularly malleable factors that can be controlled through policies and interventions. This report refers to these factors as indicators of the characteristics of teachers or districts that predict successful teacher recruitment and retention. While associations between indicators and outcomes cannot be interpreted as causal—a specific indicator is not necessarily the cause of a related outcome—the results from this study can be used to pinpoint potential problems and inform future policies. The results can also provide a rationale for experimental evaluations of programs aiming to improve teacher recruitment and retention. The study first explores patterns of teacher job mobility in Oklahoma, including teachers’ probability of remaining employed in the same district for a given number of years, the proportion of teachers who leave rural school districts and move to another rural school district, the proportion of teachers who receive tenure, and the one year retention probability for each successive year of employment. Patterns of teacher job mobility are examined for any differences between rural and nonrural school districts. The study was designed to identify teacher, district, and community characteristics in rural Oklahoma that predict which teachers are most likely to be successfully recruited (defined as having completed a probationary period of three years and obtained tenure in their fourth year of teaching) and retained longer term (defined as the duration of employment of tenured teachers in a given school district). This study covers the 10 school years between 2005/06 and 2014/15 and uses teacher and district data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, and community characteristics from data in federal noneducation sources and publicly available geographic information systems from Google Maps.”

Lochmiller, C. R., Adachi, E., Chesnut, C. E., & Johnson, J. (2016). Retention, attrition, and mobility among teachers and administrators in West Virginia (REL 2016-161). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Members of the West Virginia School Leadership Research Alliance partnered with Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia to study the average retention, attrition, and mobility rates among teachers and administrators in the West Virginia public school system. There is increasing evidence nationwide that low teacher and administrator retention rates adversely affect student academic outcomes, particularly in reading and math, which are reform priorities in many states (B├ęteille, Kalogrides, & Loeb, 2012; Branch, Hanushek, & Rivkin, 2012; Kane & Staiger, 2008; Ronfeldt, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013). West Virginia policymakers and educators have thus expressed interest in increasing teacher and administrator retention rates to improve student achievement. This report provides descriptive information about retention, attrition, and mobility among teachers and administrators that can be used to inform policy and program decision making in West Virginia. The analyses were based on personnel data for teachers and administrators provided by the West Virginia Department of Education for the academic years 2008/09-2012/13, as well as district information covering the same years from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data. Unless otherwise stated, the retention, attrition, and mobility rates are annual averages for the academic years examined. Three appendices are included: (1) Data and methodology; (2) Average retention, attrition, and mobility rates among teachers and administrators by West Virginia public school district (data table); and (3) Cumulative attrition rates among beginning teachers in West Virginia public school districts (data table).”

Lochmiller, C. R., Sugimoto, T. J., & Muller, P. A. (2016). Teacher retention, mobility, and attrition in Kentucky Public Schools from 2008 to 2012 (REL 2016-116). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this descriptive study was to determine the rates of retention, mobility, and attrition for classroom teachers in Kentucky public schools, as well as how those rates might vary by various teacher and school characteristics. The study looks at retention, defined as teachers returning to their same classroom (‘stayers’); mobility, when teachers change schools within the school system (‘movers’); and attrition, when teachers leave the system (‘leavers’) from one year to the next. The study used data on teachers collected by the Kentucky Center for Education & Workforce Statistics on every teacher employed in PK-12 public schools in academic years 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, and 2011/12. Data on schools were obtained from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data. The study found that the Kentucky teacher workforce was largely stable across the study period (2008-2012). Most teachers (85.6 percent, on average) stayed in the same school from one year to the next, 6.0 percent moved to a different school, and 8.4 percent left the public school system. The study revealed some variation in rates based on select teacher and school characteristics. In particular, teachers with the fewest years of experience, teachers in urban schools, and teachers in schools where more students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch were retained at the lowest rates. Data sources and methods are appended.”

Meyer, S. J., Espel, E. V., Weston-Sementelli, J. L., & Serdiouk, M. (2019). Teacher retention, mobility, and attrition in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota (REL 2019-001). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Description: This study is designed to provide a better understanding of the dynamic and geographic character of the teacher labor market, including factors related to mobility and attrition, in rural and nonrural settings in four REL Central region states—Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. State and district administrators may use findings to identify needs for recruitment and retention, target workforce improvement strategies, inform progress toward state and district teacher-equity goals, and aid development of supports or incentives designed to improve teacher recruitment and retention where the need is greatest. Research Questions: (1) To what extent is the teacher workforce in four REL Central region states characterized by classroom teachers who are entrants (entering the state public school system), stayers (remaining in a classroom teaching position in the same school), movers (moving to a classroom teaching position in a different school or district), and leavers (taking a nonteaching position or exiting the state public school system) in rural and nonrural settings, and by state, county, and district?; (2) How does the prevalence of classroom teachers who are entrants, stayers, movers, and leavers vary according to characteristics of teachers, schools, and districts in rural and nonrural settings? (3) How long do classroom teachers stay in the same classroom teaching position, and how does tenure in position vary in rural and nonrural settings and according to characteristics of teachers, schools, and districts?; and (4) To what extent are characteristics of teachers, schools, and districts related to classroom teacher mobility and attrition in rural and nonrural settings? Study Design: The study will use data from statewide longitudinal data systems in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota for the academic years 2011/12 to 2016/17. REL Central researchers will conduct descriptive analyses to examine teacher workforce dynamics in rural and nonrural settings within and across states. Researchers will also employ correlational analyses to examine the relationship between teacher mobility and attrition and various teacher, school, and district characteristics.”

Sorensen, L. C., & Ladd, H. F. (2018). The hidden costs of teacher turnover (Working Paper No. 203-0918-1). Washington, DC: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “High teacher turnover imposes numerous costs on the schools and districts from which teachers depart. This study asks how schools respond to spells of high teacher turnover, and assesses organizational and human capital losses in terms of the changing composition of the teacher pool. Our analysis uses more than two decades of linked administrative data on math and ELA [English language arts] teachers at middle schools in North Carolina to determine the impacts of turnover across different policy environments and macroeconomic climates. We find that, even after accounting for school contexts and trends, turnover has marked, and lasting, negative consequences for teacher quality. Our results highlight the need for heightened policy attention to issues of teacher retention and working conditions.”

Sullivan, K., Barkowski, E., Lindsay, J., Lazarev, V., Nguyen, T., Newman, D., & Lin, L. (2017). Trends in teacher mobility in Texas and associations with teacher, student, and school characteristics (REL 2018-283). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance expressed interest in investigating annual teacher mobility in Texas. This resulting study, using data from the 2011/12-2015/16 school years, first asked how large teacher mobility was and how much of that movement was between schools in the same district, how much was between districts in Texas, and how much was out of public school teaching in Texas altogether. The study also addressed the relationships between teacher mobility and teachers’ personal and professional characteristics, school-level student characteristics, and schools’ average teacher ratings (under a new system piloted in 2014/15). The study used 2011/12-2015/16 data collected by the Texas Education Agency on all Texas public schools. It also used data collected by the Texas Education Agency during the 2014/15 pilot of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) in 57 school districts-about 5 percent of districts in Texas. This report provides state and district policymakers in Texas with updated information on trends in teacher mobility and on correlates of mobility in the teaching workforce, offering a systematic baseline for monitoring and planning. The findings will enable policymakers to formulate a strategic, targeted approach for recruiting and retaining teachers rather than relying on generic approaches for increasing the overall supply of teachers or improving recruitment. For example, informed efforts might target attracting and retaining teachers in specific fields (such as special education), at certain stages of their career (such as novice teachers), or in certain geographic areas. Moreover, the analysis enriches the knowledge base about schools’ teacher retention and mobility in relation to the quality of the teaching force and may inform policy discussions about the importance of a stable teaching force for teaching effectiveness.”

Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from

From the executive summary: “Widespread media reports of local teacher shortages have become a hot topic in education since the summer of 2015. After years of teacher layoffs, districts began hiring again as the economy recovered from the Great Recession. Many were surprised to find they had serious difficulty finding qualified teachers for their positions, especially in fields like mathematics, science, special education, and bilingual education/English language development. A number of states greatly expanded emergency permits to allow hiring of untrained teachers to meet these demands—which is the classic definition of a shortage. To date, however, there has not yet been a detailed national analysis of the sources and extent of these shortages, or a prognosis for the future. This report details the outcomes of such a study, which analyzes evidence of teacher shortages, as well as national and regional trends in teacher supply and demand. Using several federal databases, we examine the current context and model projections of future trends under several different assumptions about factors influencing supply and demand, including new entrants, re-entrants, projected hires, and attrition rates. We also investigate policy strategies that might mitigate these effects based on research about effective approaches to recruitment and retention. We define shortages as the inability to staff vacancies at current wages with individuals qualified to teach in the fields needed. We find strong evidence of a current national teacher shortage that could worsen by 2017–18, if current trends continue. Combining estimates of supply and demand, our modeling reveals an estimated teacher shortage of approximately 64,000 teachers in the 2015–16 school year. By 2020, an estimated 300,000 new teachers will be needed per year, and by 2025, that number will increase to 316,000 annually. Unless major changes in teacher supply or a reduction in demand for additional teachers occur over the coming years, annual teacher shortages could increase to as much as 112,000 teachers by 2018, and remain close to that level thereafter. Based on the evidence available, the emerging teacher shortage is driven by four main factors:

  • A decline in teacher preparation enrollments
  • District efforts to return to pre-recession pupil-teacher ratios,
  • Increasing student enrollment, and
  • High teacher attrition.

The labor market should respond to the availability of jobs, so we can expect some increase in supply, but the extent of the increase and its distribution across subject fields and locations are likely to be uneven.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • descriptor: ‘faculty mobility’ descriptor: ‘statistical analysis’

  • Retention

  • Teacher attrition and mobility

  • Teacher workforce

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.