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Confronting Early Career Teacher Attrition in Utah

West | March 12, 2024

Teacher shortages have garnered a lot of recent media attention. Most states are experiencing some degree of teacher shortages since the COVID-19 pandemic, and teacher turnover has surged in recent years, with more teachers leaving the profession than ever before.1 This is bad news for schools. Teacher turnover not only negatively impacts student outcomes2,3 but also results in significant costs to districts and schools when they must replace teachers.4

Utah has maintained one of the country's lowest teacher turnover rates, ranging from 8.7 to 9.8 percent over the past decade. This demonstrates that Utah's workforce of approximately 36,000 teachers is fairly stable (with a lower turnover rate than Utah's state employees).5 However, in Utah and across the U.S., teachers in their first five years are at especially high risk for leaving their schools or the profession,6 and early career teacher attrition is higher in Utah than the national average.7

"We don't have a recruitment problem," explains Dr. Jennifer Throndsen, the Director of Teaching and Learning at the Utah State Board of Education (USBE), "We have a retention problem among our teachers starting out."

The Utah Early Career Teacher Retention (U-ECTR) partnership is a collaboration between REL West researchers, USBE officials, and leaders from eight Utah school districts (Cache, Canyons, Davis, Duchesne, Iron, Logan, Ogden, and Salt Lake) who are dedicated to understanding and addressing the root causes of early career teacher attrition. Meeting quarterly since April 2023, the U-ECTR partnership has examined local teacher turnover rates and exit survey results, as well as national survey data on teacher well-being and research on new teacher induction and mentoring.

In November, in response to recent REL research on working conditions and teacher retention,8 several U-ECTR districts began to engage their early career teachers in "stay interviews"—a strategy with evidence from nursing9 and the business sector10,11 that encourages managers to have proactive, intentional conversations with employees they want to retain to find out what it will take to keep them from leaving. In November and December 2023, district leaders in Cache, Canyons, Logan, and Ogden conducted interviews with more than 200 early career teachers to gather information about what they most look forward to in their jobs every day, and what they would change if they could. In February and March 2024, the participating district officials are analyzing their local interview data in collaboration with REL West and presenting their summary findings to district and school board leadership. They are beginning to develop strategies to respond to teachers' concerns in the coming school year—for example, by creating more structured time for early career teachers to collaborate with peers and with counselors about problematic student behavior. They are also making stay interviews an annual district practice.

The 2024 Utah Legislature recently passed H.B. 431, which will create and fund a $5 million pilot program to increase access to innovative teacher leadership tracks for effective educators, including master teacher roles and incentives for differentiated teacher leader work pay scales.

REL West, USBE, and our U-ECTR district colleagues will continue to monitor the state's retention initiatives and plan ways to learn about implementation and impact and expand evidence-based practices across the state to keep effective early career teachers in the classroom!

1 Nguyen, T. D., Lam, C. B., & Bruno, P. (2022). Is there a national teacher shortage? A systematic examination of reports of teacher shortages in the United States (EdWorkingPaper: 22-631). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University at

2 Ronfeldt, M., Loeb, S., & Wyckoff, J. (2013). How teacher turnover harms student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 50(1), 4–36.

3 Sorensen, L. C., & Ladd, H. F. (2020). The hidden costs of teacher turnover. AERA Open, 6(1), 2332858420905812.

4 Watlington, E., Shockley, R., Guglielmino, P., & Felsher, R. (2010). The high cost of leaving: An analysis of the cost of teacher turnover. Journal of Education Finance, 22–37.

5 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.

6 Ingersoll, R. M., Merrill, E., Stuckey, D., & Collins, G. (2018). Seven trends: The transformation of the teaching force (Updated October 2018, CPRE Research Report# RR 2018-2). Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

7 Blevins, L., Boone, M., Cantlon, M., Scott, S., & Li, W. (2021). Report to the Utah Legislature: A performance audit of teacher retention within Utah's public education system (Report No. 2021-13). Salt Lake City: Office of the Utah Legislative Auditor General.

8 Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest. (2022). Addressing working conditions to improve teacher retention: An exploration of the research. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

9 Forde-Johnston, C., & Stoermer, F. (2022). Giving nurses a voice through "listening to staff" conversations to inform nurse retention and reduce turnover. British Journal of Nursing, 31(12), 632–638.

10 Finnegan, R. (2015). The Stay Interview: A manager's guide to keeping the best and brightest. New York: American Management Association.

11 Kaye, B., & Jordan-Evans, S. (2015). Hello Stay Interviews, goodbye talent loss: A manager's playbook. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.


Reino Makkonen

Reino Makkonen

Jennifer  Throndsen

Jennifer Throndsen

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