We tend to talk about teacher retention as a national problem. The stat that “half of all teachers leave within 5 years” may have seeped into public consciousness, but it’s not true today and was never quite right anyway.
We also intuitively understand that teacher retention varies across districts and schools. We need to spend more time grappling with the consequences of those variations—teacher turnover affects everything from student learning to teacher retirement savings—but we also need to spend more time quantifying where it exists and what it looks like.
To see how much teacher experience levels vary across states, I ran the table below from NCES’ Schools and Staffing Survey. Each column shows the percentage of the state’s teacher workforce falling into various bands based on the number of years they had served in public schools. The data come from the 2011-12 survey administration, so they represent each state’s teaching workforce in that particular school year.
Nationally, 23.6 percent of the nation’s public school teachers had five or fewer years of experience. The largest category was teachers with 11-20 years of experience; slightly less than one-third of all public school teachers fell into that group. Fourteen percent of teachers had 21-30 years of experience, and another 5.7 percent had 31 or more years of experience.
Although state totals tended to cluster around the national averages, there are some extreme outliers on either end. Delaware, Louisiana, Alaska, Mississippi, Maryland, Arizona, the District of Columbia, Utah, and Hawaii all had comparatively inexperienced workforces. On the other end, Montana, Vermont, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, Wyoming, and South Dakota had relatively more experienced teachers. Other states, like Rhode Island and Nevada, had higher concentrations of teachers in that middle band of experience, meaning they had comparatively few newcomers and few long-term veterans.
To be clear, these results are not just about teacher retention rates. They also reflect hiring trends. States that hire more teachers than they lose through attrition will tend to have a less experienced workforce, even if their retention rates for individual teachers stay the same. (This is a big part of the why the national teacher workforce has changed so dramatically. As districts cut pupil/teacher ratios from almost 19:1 in the early 1980s down to almost 16:1 today, they hired many more teachers than they lost. By making the choice for lower pupil/ teacher ratios and class sizes, it was inevitable that we’d end up with a less-experienced workforce.) I’ll come back to this distinction in subsequent posts.
These figures are merely a snapshot in time and do not indicate how each state’s workforce is changing over time. But the data suggest that some states should be investing much more heavily in teacher recruitment and retention efforts, while other states may have a harder time dealing with the coming retirements of the Baby Boomer generation.
Policymakers would be wise to consult this sort of data to set priorities within their states or school districts. While we tend to talk about the “teaching profession” as monolithic, there are significant differences across and within states.
This post originally appeared on TeacherPensions.org