• The Cost of Teacher Turnover in Alaska

      DeFeo, Dayna Jean; Tran, Trang; Hirshberg, Diane; Cope, Dale; Cravez, Pamela (Center for Alaska Education Policy Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, 2017-03-31)
      Low teacher retention - high turnover - affects student learning. Teacher recruitment and retention are challenging issues in Alaska. Rates vary considerably from district to district and year to year, but between 2004 and 2014, district-level teacher turnover in rural Alaska averaged 20%, and about a dozen districts experienced annual turnover rates higher than 30%. High turnover rates in rural Alaska are often attributed to remoteness and a lack of amenities (including healthcare and transportation); teachers who move to these communities face additional challenges including finding adequate housing and adjusting to a new and unfamiliar culture and environment. Though urban districts have lower teacher turnover rates, they also have challenges with teacher recruitment and retention, particularly in hard-to-fill positions (such as special education and secondary mathematics) and in difficult-to-staff schools. Annually, Alaskan school districts hire about 1,000 teachers (500-600 are hired by its five largest districts), while Alaska’s teacher preparation programs graduate only around 200. The costs associated with teacher turnover in Alaska are considerable, but have never been systematically calculated,1 and this study emerged from interests among Alaska education researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders to better understand these costs. Using data collected from administrators in 37 of Alaska’s 54 districts, we describe teacher turnover and the costs associated with it in four key categories: separation, recruitment, hiring, and induction and training. Our calculations find that the total average cost of teacher turnover is $20,431.08 per teacher. Extrapolating this to Alaska’s 2008-2012 turnover data, this constitutes a cost to school districts of approximately $20 million per year. We focused on costs to Alaskan school districts, rather than costs to individual communities, schools, or the state. Our calculation is a conservative estimate, and reflects typical teacher turnover circumstances - retirement, leaving the profession, or moving to a new school district. We did not include unusual circumstances, such as mid-year departures or terminations. Our cost estimate includes costs of separation, recruitment, hiring, and orientation and training, and excludes the significant costs of teacher productivity and teacher preparation. We suggest that not all turnover is bad, nor are all turnover costs; and emphasize the need to focus on teacher retention as a goal, rather than reducing turnover costs. Even with conservative estimates, teacher turnover is a significant strain on districts’ personnel and resources, and in an era of shrinking budgets, teacher turnover diverts resources from teaching and learning to administrative processes of filling teacher vacancies. Our recommendations include: • Better track teacher turnover costs • Explore how to reduce teacher turnover costs • Support ongoing research around teacher turnover and its associated costs • Explore conditions driving high teacher turnover, and how to address them