Research examining the behavior of teachers and administrators with the goal of developing policies to
attract and retain high-quality teachers and leaders, especially in low-performing schools
 Teacher Retention

Teacher retention is an important factor in determining a school’s learning environment. It is difficult for school administrators to implement new policies, effect necessary changes or meet higher standards when the teaching workforce is in constant flux. Low performing, high poverty urban schools are at a greater disadvantage because teacher retention in these schools tends to be lower than in higher performing schools. More qualified teachers are more likely to transfer out of lower performing schools, leaving the least qualified teachers to teach the neediest students.

Many factors contribute to teacher retention; we examine some in the following papers.

“Concern over low student performance has a long history, however, it has taken on recent urgency in an era marked by court cases that focus on adequacy, by dramatic increases in achievement information, and by widespread calls for accountability. Recent research has emphasized the link between teachers and student outcomes. An understanding of how schools differ in the qualifications of their teachers and the mechanisms driving these differences is useful for designing effective policies that address inequities or inadequacies in instructional resources.”

Teacher Layoffs:  An Empirical Illustration of Seniority v. Measures of Effectiveness.  July 2010.  Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff.

Today, the financial imbalance in many school districts is so large that there is no alternative to teacher layoffs.  In nearly all school districts, layoffs are currently determined by some version of teacher seniority.  Yet, alternative approaches to personnel reductions may substantially reduce the harm to students from staff reductions relative to layoffs based on seniority.  This policy brief illustrates the differences in New York City public schools that would result when layoffs are determined by seniority in comparison to estimated teacher value-added for fourth and fifth grade teachers employing math and ELA student achievement. We find the differences between seniority and value-added based layoffs are larger and more persistent than we anticipated.  However, as a result of the limited applicability of teacher value-added measures to the full population of teachers as well as concerns about potential mis-measurement of effectiveness associated with using value-added measures even when available, neither seniority nor measures of value-added to student achievement should be the sole criterion determining layoffs.  But ignoring effectiveness measures completely as seniority-based systems do, is also problematic. Instead, the use of multiple measures of effectiveness for layoff decisions holds promise for softening the detrimental effect of layoffs. Policy Brief

The Effect of School Neighborhoods on Teacher Career Decisions. June 2010.  Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, Matthew Ronfeldt, and James Wyckoff.

A substantial body of research demonstrates that schools with large populations of poor, non-white and low-achieving students, on average, have more difficulty attracting and retaining teachers.  The neighborhoods in which schools are located may also affect the supply of teachers, but little research has assessed the extent to which differences in neighborhoods either affect teacher recruitment and retention or explain the observed relationship between school characteristics and teachers’ career choices.  This paper uses newly compiled data on the neighborhoods of all schools in New York City, linked to a unique dataset on teachers’ applications to transfer, in order to assess the effects of neighborhoods on teachers’ career decisions.  Overall, this study finds that while neighborhood characteristics matter somewhat to teachers in choosing where they would like to work, their influence is modest relative to teachers’ preferences to teach in schools serving relatively low proportions of black students and low achieving students.  Research Paper

The Role of Teacher Quality in Retention and Hiring:  Using Applications-to-Transfer to Uncover Preferences of Teachers and Schools.  November 2009.  Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, Mathew Ronfeldt, and James Wyckoff.  

Many large urban school districts are rethinking their personnel management strategies, often giving increased control to schools in the hiring of teachers, reducing, for example, the importance of seniority. Prior research on teacher transfers uses career history data, identifying the school in which a teacher teaches in each year.  Based on this data, it is unclear the extent to which the patterns are driven by teacher preferences or school preferences, since the matching of teachers to schools is a two-sided choice. In this paper we use applications-to-transfer data to examine separately which teachers apply for transfer and which get hired and, in so doing, differentiate teacher from employer preferences. We find that teachers with better pre-service qualifications (certification exam scores; college competitiveness) are more likely to apply for transfer, while teachers whose students demonstrate higher achievement growth are less likely. On the other hand, schools prefer to hire “higher quality” teachers across measures that signal quality. The results suggest not only that more effective teachers prefer to stay in their school, but that when given the opportunity schools are able to identify and hire the best candidates. Research Paper

The Influence of School Administrators on Teacher Retention Decisions.  May 2009.  Donald Boyd, Pamela Grossman, Marsha Ing, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff. 

When given the opportunity many teachers choose to leave schools serving poor, low-performing and non-white students. While a substantial research literature has documented this phenomenon, far less research effort has gone into understanding what features of the working conditions in these schools drive this relatively higher turnover rate. This paper explores the relationship between school contextual factors and teacher retention decisions in New York City. We find that measures of teachers’ perceptions of the school administration has by far the greatest influence on teacher-retention decisions. This effect of administration is consistent for both the first year teachers surveyed and for the full sample of New York City teachers, and is confirmed by a survey of teachers who have recently left teaching in New York CityResearch Paper

The Impact of Assessment and Accountability on Teacher Retention: Are There Unintended Consequences? Public Finance Review, vol. 36, no. 1, page 88-111, January 2008. Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff. 

Has increased accountability for student test outcomes affected the turnover or distribution of teachers?  We explore this question within the context of pre-NCLB accountability in New York State when systematic testing of all students occurred only in 4th and 8th grade.  Using data on every teacher in New York State Public elementary schools from 1994-95 through 2001-02, we find that the turnover rate of fourth grade teachers decreased relative to teachers in other elementary grades since testing began.  In addition, entering fourth grade teachers are less likely to be inexperienced teachers than those moving into other elementary school grades. Research Paper

Who Leaves? Teacher Attrition and Student Achievement. September 2007. Donald Boyd, Pam Grossman, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff.  

Teacher attrition has attracted considerable attention as many federal, state and local policies intended to improve student outcomes focus on recruiting and retaining more qualified and effective teachers.  However, policy makers are often frustrated by the seeming high rates of attrition among teachers early in their careers.  This paper considers patterns of attrition and retention among teachers in New York City elementary and middle schools and explores the crucial question as to whether teachers who transfer among schools or leave teaching entirely are more or less effective than those who remain.  We also consider how teacher attrition may enhance or reduce the misdistribution of teacher quality by the race, income and achievement of   students in those schools.   Our findings raise questions about current retention and transfer policies. Research Paper

Explaining the Short Careers of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students. American Economic Review, May 2005, Vol. 95, No. 2. Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff.

This paper examines the decisions of elementary teachers in New York City to stay in the same school, transfer to another public school within NYC, transfer to a school outside NYC, or leave teaching altogether during the first five years of their careers. This study improves on existing research in that it examines how teachers’ transfer and quit behaviors are influenced by (i) interactions between teacher qualifications and school-level student achievement (ii) unobserved variation in teachers’ responses to school-level student attributes, and (iii) the distance from new teachers’ prior homes to their first jobs. Journal Article, Research Paper, Policy Brief (forthcoming).

Improving Science Achievement: The Role of Teacher Workforce Policies. May 2005. Donald Boyd, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff.

This paper examines the difficulty hard-to-staff and low-performing schools have in hiring and keeping high quality teachers. Students failing to achieve even minimal levels of educational achievement are most dependent on their teachers and schools for academic learning, yet they typically are taught by individuals with relatively weak and/or inadequate qualifications. This study explores what traditionally hard-to-staff and low-performing schools can do to attract and keep the quality workforce that will provide their students with the requisite schools and learning demanded by future employers and required by state and national standards. Research Paper, Policy Brief (forthcoming)

Teacher Sorting and the Plight of Urban Schools: A Descriptive Analysis. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Spring 2002, Vol. 24, No. 1, 37-62. Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff.

This paper examines how average attributes of teachers vary exist across schools, identifies schools that have the least-qualified teachers and examines the distribution of these teachers over time; and explores how the distribution of teachers is affected by attrition, transfers and job-matching between teachers and schools at the start of their careers. Journal ArticlePolicy Brief (forthcoming)



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