Can IT Turn Around Teacher Turnover?


Teacher turnover (also known to some as "teachers quitting their jobs") is becoming a critical concern for school and district administrators. Not only can it have a negative impact on student learning, especially in troubled districts, but it's emerging as a fairly major financial drain on districts in all regions, according to findings released last month by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF). So is there anything school and district technology leaders can do about it? According to the NCTAF report, there is.

NCTAF's 18-month pilot study examined five individual districts to explore the costs of losing teachers incurred by schools and districts. These districts included Chicago Public Schools, Granville County Schools (North Carolina), Jemez Valley Public Schools (New Mexico), Milwaukee Public Schools (Wisconsin), and Santa Rosa Public Schools (New Mexico). What it found was that the costs associated with teachers leaving in these districts ranged from a low of $4,366 per teacher in Jemez Valley to a high of $17,872 per teacher in Chicago, with a total annual cost to Chicago Public Schools at about $86 million. This is just the money thrown away on teachers who leave (recruitment, training, incentives, processing, etc.).

Besides the financial costs, there are, of course, costs to students as well. According to the report, "Low-performing schools rarely close the student achievement gap because they never close the teaching quality gap--they are constantly rebuilding their staff. An inordinate amount of their capital--both human and financial--is consumed by the constant process of hiring and replacing beginning teachers who leave before they have mastered the ability to create a successful learning culture for their students."

While the actual reasons for teachers leaving are many and varied and very likely have nothing to do with IT (unless your IT department is like some of those I've worked with in the past whose chief aim seemed to be to suck the life out of me), there do seem to be some viable remedies for alleviating at least some of the problems across the board. And of these remedies, a small number impact IT.

The first of this involves data systems. According to the NCTAF report, the actual figures for the costs associated with teacher turnover are generally unavailable in any immediate way. That is, they're buried in with other cost data and not separated out. Taking this as a fact, administrators therefore are flying blind in the best-case scenario or are unaware of the costs at all in the worst-case scenario.

According to the report, "Most districts have huge collections of data on the cost elements associated with teacher turnover, but the current data systems stand in the way of accurate and timely analysis. Coherent data systems should be created to house cost data in a way that is easily accessible and analyzable. Teacher turnover data should be added to current systems and should be included in the design of new systems. With easily accessible data, districts could begin to analyze and manage teacher turnover and its costs."

In a related matter, the report also recommended an tweaking of data systems to provide more comprehensive information on teacher effectiveness as a sort of means of forcing administrators at the school and district level to focus efforts on retaining high-quality teachers. "Robust data systems that provide sufficient information about teacher effectiveness in specific schools will also enable district human resource departments to be increasingly accountable for the retention of high quality teachers," the report stated.

The report also makes recommendations in areas tangentially related to IT: induction and professional development. Of course, IT holds the keys to some aspects of these two related areas in its ability to enable technology-based learning through Web-based tools and other types of collaboration technologies.

But all of these recommendations are costly in their own right. Upgrading data systems and providing comprehensive induction and targeted retention/professional development programs can be prohibitively expensive. But:

"The costs of such programs will at least be partially offset by increases in teacher retention and subsequent decreases in the costs of turnover. It is very possible that a district could save money by investing in an effective induction program," according to the report.

There's obviously more to it than this. But the report does provide documentation and analyses of problems facing schools in retaining new teachers that point toward a critical role IT (among other departments) can play in addressing these problems. I recommend you take a look at this 97-page report and also use NCTAF's teacher turnover calculator to get an idea of what your schools might be losing as new teachers come and go. Both can be found at the links below.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).