This is an archived article.

January 4, 2007

Teacher retention in Washington State bucks common wisdom

News and Information

It’s often said that half of all public school teachers leave the profession during their first five years. But is it true? Not in Washington State, researchers in the UW College of Education have found.

Over the last three years, Associate Professor Margaret Plecki, Professor Michael Knapp, and Ana Elfers, a research consultant, have conducted a series of statewide studies of teacher mobility, using databases from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and focusing on two school years, 2000-1 and 2004-5.

Of teachers with less than one year of experience when the study began, they found 26.5 percent — about one in four — left their jobs and the statewide education system, temporarily or permanently, in the first five years.

The statewide statistics show that the actual drain on the teacher workforce is considerably less than is often believed, and that the picture in Washington state may differ from that of other states or the national profile.

The findings also dispel the myth that Washington is losing a disproportionate number of teachers from the workforce. The reality, the researchers say, is that while one-fifth of all teachers left the Washington system after five years, easily half of those leaving are retirees, and others may have left only temporarily.

In 2005, the researchers confirmed that, in general, poorer schools and those with higher percentages of minority student populations have the hardest time retaining teachers.

To further explore what factors most affect teacher mobility in Washington, Plecki, Knapp and Elfers surveyed a random sample of 400 teachers statewide, getting responses from about 90 percent.

The survey responses underscored the common sense expectation that strong collegiality, community and staff and parent support influence teacher’s decisions to stay in their schools, while weak parent involvement and a lack of support — in time and money — for teacher professional development tended to cause teachers to seek work elsewhere.

Funding for this research was provided by the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. The research studies can be accessed at http://www.cstp-wa.org/