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2005 Spotlight

Mobility in the Teacher Workforce

How Many Teachers Do Schools Lose at the End of the Year?

At the end of the 1999–2000 school year, public and private schools lost a total of about 550,000 teachers (or 16 percent of the teacher workforce) due to teacher turnover. Roughly 270,000 of these teachers (8 percent) transferred to a different school, and the other 280,000 (8 percent) left teaching for various reasons (figure 6). The teachers who left teaching—or “leavers” for the purpose of this analysis—consisted of teachers who retired (2 percent), took a job other than elementary or secondary teaching28 (4 percent), returned to school for further education (0.3 percent), left for family reasons (e.g., to raise children or take care of other family members) (1 percent), and left for miscellaneous other reasons (1 percent).

The percentage of total teacher turnover at the end of 1999–2000 was larger than at the end of 1987–88, 1990–91, or 1993–94 (16 vs. 14, 13, and 14 percent, respectively) (table 4). However, only two categories of leavers at the end of 1999–2000 were measurably larger than the corresponding category of leavers at the end of the earlier years. The percentage of teachers who took another job other than elementary or secondary teaching was higher at the end of 1999–2000 than at the end of 1990–91 or 1987–88 (4 vs. 2 percent for both earlier years). Also, the percentage of teachers who retired at the end of 1999–2000 was higher than that at the end of 1987–88 (2 vs. 1 percent). Increases in these two categories of leavers account for virtually all of the relative increase in turnover observed at the end of 1999–2000. The percentages for all the other categories of leavers at the end of 1999–2000 and for teachers who transferred to a new school at the end of 1999–2000 were not measurably different from the percentages for the corresponding categories at the end of 1987–88, 1990–91, or 1993–94.

It is important to recognize that while turnover measures the number of teachers that schools need to hire to keep the same number of teachers from one year to the next, teacher turnover is not a direct measure of loss in the workforce or of change in the size of the workforce from one year to the next because it includes transfers. As noted in the introduction, the data used for this special analysis do not permit one to measure exactly how much the teacher workforce as a whole changed from the beginning of one year to the beginning of the next year. However, comparing the data from the various years for which SASS and TFS data are available indicates that, between 1987–88 and 1999–2000, the total size of the teacher workforce increased (table 1) while the proportions of the categories of new hires and leavers remained relatively stable.

It is also important to recognize that teacher turnover has different implications depending on whether one looks at it from the administrative point of view of a school (or school district) or from a national perspective. From an administrative point of view, teachers who transfer to another school and teachers who leave teaching are both examples of teacher turnover that require a school or district to hire new teachers to replace them (unless the school is downsizing or enrollment has dwindled). From a national point of view, transfers are less interesting because they are teachers who have not left the teacher workforce and thus do not change its size or composition. In contrast, leavers are of particular interest because they represent attrition in the workforce that can change both its size and its overall demographics and level of training. Yet not all attrition is equal. Some attrition is desirable (e.g., teachers leaving who are not well suited to teach), but some is not (e.g., highly qualified teachers leaving). Some attrition is temporary (e.g., teachers leaving to complete a master’s degree, raise a family, or take a sabbatical who then return to teach), and some is inevitable (e.g., teachers retiring).


28This category includes some teachers who became principals or took nonteaching jobs in elementary or secondary schools or in a school district. (back to text)

Figures and Tables

Figure 6: Percentage of 1999–2000 public and private K–12 teachers who did not teach in the same school the following school year, by the reason teachers left

Table 1: Number and percentage distribution of public and private K–12 teachers by their workforce categories and employment background: 1987–88, 1990–91, 1993–94, and 1999–2000

Table 4: Number and percentage of 1987–88, 1990–91, 1993–94, and 1999–2000 public and private K–12 teachers who did not teach in the same school the following year, by turnover categories

Table SA4: Standard errors for table 1: Number and percentage distribution of public and private K–12 teachers by their workforce categories and employment background: 1987–88, 1990–91, 1993–94, and 1999–2000

Table SA9: Standard errors for figure 6: Percentage of 1999–2000 public and private K–12 teachers who did not teach in the same school the following school year, by the reason teachers left

Table SA10: Standard errors for table 4: Number and percentage of 1987–88, 1990–91, 1993–94, and 1999–2000 public and private K–12 teachers who did not teach in the same school the following year, by turnover categories

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education