High levels of teacher attrition drive educator shortages

TWIN FALLS — New research by the State Board of Education shows high rates of turnover among Idaho’s public school teachers are leading to educator shortages.

On Thursday, Educator Effectiveness Program Manager Christina Linder said Idaho’s teacher attrition rate and the rate of teachers leaving their job before retirement age are both higher than national averages.

Idaho’s teacher attrition rate is 10 percent, compared to the national average of 8 percent.

Approximately 76 percent of Idaho’s attrition rate is made up of teachers leaving the workforce prior to retirement age, compared to 66 percent of teachers nationally, she said.

“Mostly, we have a significant retention problem,” Linder told the State Board of Education.

Linder and principal research analyst Cathleen McHugh created the 2017 Teacher Pipeline Report relying on data from the state’s teacher certification database, school staffing reports, Title II reports, Idaho Department of Labor projections and school district surveys. The whole point of the report was to replace anecdotes with facts, Linder said.

Overall, Linder and McHugh found that the supply of new teachers each year more than covers retirements (about 360 teachers) and school and enrollment growth (about 233 teachers). Idaho certifies about 1,800 new teachers a year, and 1,200 of those newly certified teachers accept jobs at Idaho schools.

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While the supply side of the pipeline more than covers retirement and growth, it struggles to keep up with teachers who leave the profession voluntarily, before reaching retirement age.

About 15 percent of Idaho’s teachers leave the workforce after just one year on the job. After their fourth year, 30 percent of teachers have left the profession.

“It’s just huge,” Linder said.

Linder’s presentation raised eyebrows among State Board members.

“I was surprised we’re not retaining teachers and a lot are leaving within five years,” State Board member Debbie Critchfield said. “We’d hear things like that, but haven’t had the data to support those anecdotal stories we hear.”

Linder also released a set of recommendations to combat attrition. She said providing support, such as intensive mentoring, is a research-backed strategy to support new teachers and retain them in the field.

Linder also called for policymakers to support a State Board recommendation to expand alternative teaching certifications through a mastery-based content specialist alternative route. The idea behind the new alterative route is to bring subject matter experts, such as a professional chemist or accountant, to teach classes before they have obtained an official teaching certificate.

The State Board gave preliminary approval to the new alternative route to certification in October. But, as Linder pointed out Thursday, alternative paths to teaching are already on the rise in Idaho. This year, about 5 percent, or one in 20 Idaho classrooms, is led by an educator who is not fully certified to teach the subject they are teaching.

State Board President Linda Clark said support and mentoring might not be enough. She praised the Legislature for passing the career ladder salary law almost four years ago. But Clark said the career ladder does more to boost beginning salaries and is not being implemented fully. Clark pointed out that initial career ladder proposals called for boosting salaries to three tiered pay levels — $40,000, $50,000 and $60,000. But when the Legislature passed the career ladder, they left the top $60,000 tier out of the plan.

“As everybody knows, while there was a tremendous amount of effort put in to get the career ladder in place, it is without that (top tier) element,” Clark said.

During a break in the meeting, Critchfield told Idaho Education News that lawmakers have told her that teacher attrition and pipeline issues will be one of the “top three” education conversations during the upcoming legislative session.

“If we don’t know exactly what we are talking about or don’t understand what the shortage means, we can never really make any headway there,” Critchfield said.

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