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Strategies for Teacher Retention — January 2021


What does the research say about strategies and practices to address teacher retention, both generally and in the context of COVID-19?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on addressing teacher retention during the pandemic. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Berry, B., Bastian, K. C., Darling-Hammond, L., & Kini, T. (2021). The importance of teaching and learning conditions: Influences on teacher retention and school performance in North Carolina. Learning Policy Institute. Full text available at

From the abstract: “This brief draws on a study of teacher working conditions and their relationship to teacher retention and school performance in North Carolina. It is part of a series of studies conducted by the Learning Policy Institute—in collaboration with WestEd and the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University—as part of an action plan developed to inform ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision in Leandro v. the State of North Carolina. That case affirmed the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide every student an equal opportunity for a sound basic education, including access to qualified teachers and administrators. Requested by the court in conjunction with both plaintiffs and defendants, the action plan aims to identify root causes of current inequalities and evidence-based solutions to meet the constitutional standard. This brief is based on an LPI report published in 2019: How Teaching and Learning Conditions Affect Teacher Retention and School Performance in North Carolina, available at The Action Plan and 12 associated reports can be found at”

Carver-Thomas, D., Kini, T., & Burns, D. (2020). Sharpening the divide: How California’s teacher shortages expand inequality. Learning Policy Institute. Full text available at

From the abstract: “When California students returned to school in fall 2019, hundreds of thousands returned to classrooms staffed by substitutes and teachers who were not fully prepared to teach. In recent years, California has experienced widespread shortages of elementary and secondary teachers as districts and schools seek to restore class sizes and course offerings cut during the Great Recession. Schools experiencing shortages of fully certified teachers often respond by cutting courses, increasing class sizes, and hiring substitutes and teachers on substandard credentials. Although statewide data reveal a deepening shortage across the state, teacher supply and demand factors vary across districts, and as a result, there can be stark disparities in shortages both among and within districts. This report examines the most recent publicly available data from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) and public- and restricted-use student and staffing data from the California Department of Education (CDE) to highlight the status of teacher supply, demand, and shortages, as well as teacher diversity, in California. The report details the significance of these supply and demand factors and demonstrates how these conditions vary throughout the state. In addition, the report summarizes recent state investments in addressing teacher shortages and examines potential policy solutions to mitigate ongoing shortages. While this report is based largely on data that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, it discusses the key factors now emerging as the pandemic affects California’s teacher workforce.”

Education Commission of the States. (2005). Eight questions on teacher recruitment and retention: What does the research say? Author. Full text available at

From the introduction: “[This publication] is a summary of the findings of a report by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) designed to…help policymakers gain a better understanding of both the nature of the teacher workforce and of promising recruitment and retention strategies. To that end, ECS reviewed 91 studies on teacher recruitment and retention in search of answers to eight questions that are of particular importance to policy and education leaders. While empirical research is not the only important source of information and is not by itself a sufficient basis for policy, policies that are not grounded in the best research are likely to miss the mark and fall short of solving the problems they were intended to address. The full report, available at, provides a detailed look at what the research says in response to each of the key questions and what that response implies for policy, and includes summaries of all 91 studies reviewed.”

REL West note: This report, though published 16 years ago, is included due to its relevance to the request.

Donley, J., Detrich, R., States, J., & Keyworth, R. (2019). Teacher retention strategies. Wing Institute. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Teacher turnover is an enormous burden on education systems, both in terms of student achievement and dollars. High turnover necessitates the recruitment of large numbers of novice teachers, whom research shows are less skilled. This situation is exacerbated by a steady exodus of veteran teachers opting to move from challenging assignments in poorer performing schools with higher percentages of lower socio-economic students to preferred assignments in more affluent areas. The high rate of turnover destabilizes the system, forcing diversion of valuable resources from ongoing improvements to recruitment, hiring, and training of novice instructors. Teachers seem to be particularly at risk for higher turnover at the beginning of their careers. Nearly half of teachers leave within 5 years of entering the profession. Efforts to improve retention have been inadequate as evidenced by steadily increasing departures from the profession. This tendency toward turnover is even more striking in private schools than in public schools. Turnover represents a major obstacle to long-term stability, diverts valuable resources, and derails many efforts at reform.”

REL West note: See more resources at

Goldhaber, D., & Ronfeldt, M. (2020). Sustaining teacher training in a shifting environment (Brief No. 7). EdResearch for Recovery Project. Full text available at

From the abstract: “This brief is one in a series aimed at providing K–12 education decision makers and advocates with an evidence base to ground discussions about how to best serve students during and following the novel coronavirus pandemic. Student teaching placements influence teacher effectiveness. If student teaching experiences are constrained by the pandemic, teacher candidates may lose valuable experiences and schools may lose the opportunity to shape and evaluate prospective hires. Teacher preparation programs and student teaching experiences play a major role in determining where candidates take job placements, in ways that can influence both job markets and staffing shortages. Teachers and teachers-in-training who participate in online practice teaching see significant improvements in teaching skills. School systems can provide in-service supports for new teachers whose student teaching experiences were interrupted or incomplete. Stronger partnerships between teacher preparation providers and remote districts have the potential to bring significant benefits, both for student teachers and for districts facing staffing shortages. Student teachers represent an important pool of additional talent for schools; creative deployment of student teachers could provide a major boost as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Low-quality teacher mentoring programs, as well as those that are not sustained across multiple years, are likely to be ineffective. Teacher effectiveness might show up differently in an online setting—so relying on past measures of teacher quality will likely be insufficient.”

Guarino, C. M., Santibañez, L., & Daley, G. A. (2006). Teacher recruitment and retention: A review of the recent empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 76(2),173–208. Abstract available at and full text available for a fee from and full-text technical report available at

From the abstract: “This article critically reviews the recent empirical literature on teacher recruitment and retention published in the United States. It examines the characteristics of individuals who enter and remain in the teaching profession, the characteristics of schools and districts that successfully recruit and retain teachers, and the types of policies that show evidence of efficacy in recruiting and retaining teachers. The goal of the article is to provide researchers and policymakers with a review that is comprehensive, evaluative, and up to date. The review of the empirical studies selected for discussion is intended to serve not only as a compendium of available recent research on teacher recruitment and retention but also as a guide to the merit and importance of these studies.”

Hanover Research. (2019). Teacher recruitment and retention: A best practices report. Author. Full text available from

From the abstract: “In the following report, Hanover Research and ULEAD provide an overview of different strategies, policies, and incentives that support recruitment and retention of highly-qualified and effective teachers across the PK-12 spectrum and in all subject areas. Findings from this report can assist Utah’s districts and schools in examining their own recruitment and retention practices to help ensure that they are maximizing their ability to hire and keep great teachers employed in their classrooms.”

Mizray, E., & Weber, G. (2020). Why retaining deeply experienced teachers is critical during a global pandemic. The American Institutes for Research. Full text available at

From the introduction: “The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly disrupted our education system, changing what classrooms and learning look like on a day-to-day basis. Educators are navigating a constantly shifting landscape, with the health of students, teachers, and the community at large at stake. In this series, AIR experts provide their insight into evidence-based practices and approaches for facilitating high-quality instruction—from attracting, preparing, and retaining teachers to providing them with professional learning opportunities—even during uncertain times.”

Pierce, J. C., Shaw-Amoah, A., & Lapp, D. (2020). Shortages and inequities in the Philadelphia public school teacher workforce. Research for Action. Full text available at

From the abstract: “Educators are centrally important in the fight for racial justice and access to high-quality education. This has never been more true than in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the public acknowledges the crucial role that our public school teachers play in the well-being of our children and of our society at large. Yet our teacher workforce is under duress. As has been true across the country, Philadelphia’s public schools faced teacher shortages even before the pandemic. COVID-19 is likely to result in further contraction of the teacher preparation pipeline, and in higher rates of attrition as teachers exit their professions due to physical or mental health stressors. And while we know that all students—particularly students of color—benefit from a diverse teaching force, the number of teachers of color is shrinking as well. When taken together, these are troubling trends. This latest brief—the fourth in RFA and PERC’s Back to School series—draws on data from the Common Core of Data, Civil Rights Data Collection, and other state and federal sources to provide an overview of the pre-pandemic status of the teaching workforce in Philadelphia’s 320 district and charter public schools, and provides some recommendations for recruiting and retaining a diverse and well-prepared teaching force. Key findings: (1) Philadelphia would need over 1,500 additional teachers just to reach the state average student/teacher ratio; (2) Black and Hispanic students in district and charter schools are more likely to be taught by teachers who do not hold any certifications, are not certified in their subject areas (particularly math and science), or are inexperienced; (3) Fewer persons of color are entering teacher preparation programs statewide, likely exacerbating the dearth of teachers of color in Philadelphia; and (4) Teachers in Philadelphia are paid less, on average, than teachers in most of the city’s bordering school districts, even though Philadelphia’s students have among the highest needs. The brief concludes with ‘implications and recommendations’ of strategies to recruit and retain a qualified, more diverse teaching workforce, many of which are already underway in the School District.”

Pate, C. (2020). Self-care strategies for educators during the coronavirus crisis: Supporting personal social and emotional well-being. WestEd. Full text available at

From the abstract: “The challenges and stresses that educators face in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented. To continue supporting their students in this challenging context, teachers and other educators must first be able to take care of themselves. Addressed to educators who face the stresses of the pandemic and the resulting school closures and online service provision, this brief offers practical information and guidance on self-care. It describes self-care as paying adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological health and wellness, and actively attending to one’s own health and well-being. The brief, produced by WestEd as part of a collection of Crisis Response Resources, builds on a growing research base about self-care, as well as WestEd’s extensive experience in education, public health, and wellness services. The brief provides sections on healthy mindsets and behaviors; identity, connectedness, and belonging; healthy boundaries and interactions; and when to seek help. The guidance aims to help educators attend to self-care so that they, in turn, can most effectively continue to educate and support those who depend on them.”

Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Bishop, J., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Solving the teacher shortage: How to attract and retain excellent educators (Research Brief). Learning Policy Institute. Full text available from

From the abstract: “A highly competent teacher workforce is a necessary foundation for improving children’s educational outcomes, especially for those who rely most on schools for their success. Yet in the United States, shortages in the teaching force have been growing across the country, reaching crisis proportions in some teaching fields—such as mathematics, science, and special education—and in locations where wages and working conditions are least attractive. This brief reports on a research review that finds that the most effective policies for attracting and retaining strong educators include increasing their compensation and improving their preparation, professional support, and working conditions, as well as improving district and school management practices that otherwise create obstacles to recruitment and retention. We describe research-based strategies at the district, state, and federal levels that can be used to enable schools to strengthen teacher quality.”

Podolsky, A., Kini, T., Darling-Hammond, L., & Bishop, J. (2019). Strategies for attracting and retaining educators: What does the evidence say? Education Policy Analysis Archives 27, 38. Full text available from

From the abstract: “This article is part of the special issue, Understanding and Solving Teacher Shortages: Policy Strategies for a Strong Profession, guest edited by Linda Darling-Hammond and Anne Podolsky. A highly competent teacher workforce is a necessary foundation for improving children’s educational outcomes, especially for those who rely most on schools for their success. Yet in the United States, shortages in the teaching force have been growing across the country, reaching crisis proportions in some teaching fields—such as mathematics, science, and special education—and in locations where wages and working conditions are least attractive. We analyzed recent research and representative survey data to identify the drivers of teacher recruitment and retention. We also reviewed the policy literature to Education Policy Analysis Archives to identify district, state, and federal policy strategies that have been effective at addressing the factors influencing teachers’ professional decisions. These policies include increasing their compensation and improving their preparation, professional support, and working conditions, as well as improving district and school management practices that otherwise create obstacles to recruitment and retention.”

See, B. H., Morris, R., Gorard, S., Kokotsaki, D., & Abdi, S. (2020). Teacher recruitment and retention: A critical review of international evidence of most promising interventions. Education Sciences, 10(10), 262. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Background: A raft of initiatives and reforms have been introduced in many countries to attract and recruit school teachers, many of which do not have a clear evidence base, so their effectiveness remains unclear. Prior research has been largely correlational in design. This paper describes a rigorous and comprehensive review of international evidence, synthesising the findings of some of the strongest empirical work so far. Methods: The review synthesises a total of 120 pieces of research from 13 electronic databases, Google/Google scholar and other sources. Each study is weighted by strength of evidence. Results: The strongest evidence suggests that targeted money can encourage people into teaching but does not necessarily keep them in the teaching profession. The money needs to be large enough to compensate for the disadvantages of working in certain schools and areas, and competitive enough to offset the opportunity costs of not being in more lucrative occupations, and its effect is only short-term. Conclusions: Continuing professional development (CPD) and early career support could be promising approaches for retaining teachers in the profession, but the evidence for them is weak. There is no evidence that any other approaches work, largely because of the lack of robust studies.”

Walker, M., Sharp, C., & Sims, D. (2020). Schools’ responses to COVID-19: Job satisfaction and workload of teachers and senior leaders. National Foundation for Educational Research. Full text available at

From the abstract: “Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, England faced a considerable teacher recruitment and retention challenge. The last ten years have been characterised by insufficient numbers of new teachers joining the profession and an increasing proportion leaving the state sector, particularly in secondary schools. This research is designed to shed some light on the immediate effects of the pandemic on senior leaders’ and teachers’ working lives. Based on the findings of a national survey of 1233 senior leaders and 1821 teachers in publicly-funded, mainstream primary and secondary schools in England, this report explores their levels of job satisfaction, their sense of control over teaching and learning practices, their weekly working hours, and the manageability of those hours. In doing so, it outlines the key pressures and challenges they are facing, together with the support mechanisms they are using to help them get through the current crisis. This report has found that, despite overall reductions in working hours, 41 per cent of senior leaders are still working more than 50 hours per week; a quarter are finding their workload unmanageable; and 31 per cent are not satisfied with their jobs. Key recommendations include the need for government, local authority services (LAs) and Trusts to ensure that schools have access to sufficient teaching capacity. Senior leaders need to use teaching assistants (TAs) effectively, and address the home working needs of the 22 per cent of teachers who are only able to work from home. In order to give leaders and teachers a greater sense of control, the Government needs to ensure that new directives are clear, kept to a minimum, reflect the concerns of the profession, and are sensitive to the pressures school leaders are facing. [For a summary report, ‘Schools’ Responses to COVID-19: Key Findings from the Wave 1 Survey,’ see ED608586.]”

Other Organizations to Consult

California Department of Education, Teacher Retention Strategies –

From the website: “Local educational agencies (LEAs) may find that one of the root causes of disproportionate access to excellent teachers is poor teacher retention. If so, LEAs may consider one or more of the following teacher retention strategies for the equity plan.”

REL West note: See URL above to access resources on a variety of strategies.

Education Elements –

From the website: “There are many ways to achieve improved outcomes. We help you identify what will work best for you. We measure our success by the success of the districts we support.”

REL West note: Education Elements has one resource relevant to this request: Teacher retention for district and school districts: How to recruit and retain teachers during this COVID-19 reality (2020). Available at


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(Strategies OR practices OR intervention) AND (“teacher retention” OR “retaining teachers”) AND (COVID OR pandemic) AND research]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2006 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 and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. 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.