Which kinds of schools do teachers leave most often? Do public
schools serving poor students, for example, have higher levels of
teacher turnover than schools with fewer poor students enrolled?
How do public and private schools differ in their teacher turnover
rates? What school characteristics are associated with turnover?
Are teachers' salaries related to the rates at which teachers leave
schools? Data from the 1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS),
conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES),
can be used to address these questions. This survey collected
information on the percentage of teachers, both full-time and part-
time, who recently left positions in their schools, either to teach
in other schools or to pursue different occupations. Regardless of
whether the exiting teachers moved within the same district, to
another school elsewhere, or left teaching, the turnover meant a
decrease in staff for that particular school and the probable need
to hire a replacement.
IN 1990-91, PRIVATE SCHOOLS EXPERIENCED HIGHER TEACHER TURNOVER
RATES THAN DID PUBLIC SCHOOLS.
Across elementary and secondary levels and central city to rural locations, teacher turnover rates were higher in private than in public schools in 1990-91 (table 1). At the elementary level, for example, the turnover rate in private schools was almost twice what it was in public schools. Similarly, in central cities, the turnover rate for teachers in private schools was almost double that for public schools.
___________________________________________________________________ TABLE 1. Mean teacher turnover rates, by selected school characteristics, 1990-91 PUBLIC 8.7 Level Elementary 8.6 Secondary 8.5 Combined 11.5 Size Under 300 10.3 300-599 8.2 600 or more 7.7 Location Central city 9.0 Urban fringe 8.2 Rural 8.8 Free/reduced-price lunch recipients Under 20 percent 8.0 20-49 percent 8.7 50 percent or more 9.9 PRIVATE 15.8 Level Elementary 16.3 Secondary 12.6 Combined 15.9 Size Under 300 17.0 300-599 11.3 600 or more 9.3 Location Central city 17.0 Urban fringe 14.8 Rural 15.4 Orientation Catholic 14.5 Other religious 17.3 Nonsectarian 14.4 SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey (School Questionnaire).
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOLS WITH THE LOWEST ENROLLMENTS IN 1990-91
EXPERIENCED THE HIGHEST TEACHER TURNOVER RATES.
Contrary to current thinking (e.g., Rosenholtz 1985), large public
schools did not have the highest rates of teacher turnover in 1990-
91 (table 1). In fact, these schools experienced lower turnover
rates than did the smallest public schools (i.e., schools with
fewer than 300 students). This pattern was even more pronounced in
the private sector, where sites with the fewest students had almost
twice the teacher turnover rates than the largest sites (i.e.,
those with 600 students or more). Generally, annual teacher
turnover rates in the schools serving the most students were about
TEACHER TURNOVER RATES WERE HIGHER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS WHERE HALF OR
MORE OF THE STUDENTS ENROLLED RECEIVED FREE OR REDUCED-PRICE
Schools with high concentrations of students receiving free or
reduced-price lunches (i.e., 50 percent or more student recipients)
had, on average, a teacher turnover rate of about 10 percent in
1990-91. The average turnover rate in public schools with lower
concentrations of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches
was approximately 8 percent.
LOWER SALARIES AND FEWER BENEFITS IN SMALL PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
SCHOOLS MAY HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO HIGHER TURNOVER RATES FOR TEACHERS
SASS data suggest which school characteristics were related to high turnover rates in 1990-91. Generally speaking, public schools offered their teachers higher salaries and more benefits than did private schools. However, small schools (i.e., schools with fewer than 300 students) in each sector offered teachers lower salaries and fewer benefits than their large school counterparts (i.e., 600 students or more). In small private schools, for example, the maximum salary for teachers, defined as the maximum step on the salary scale, averaged $22,509 in 1990-91, compared to $32,727 in large private schools (table 2); for small public schools, the average maximum salary was $35,317 compared to $42,421 in large public schools. In addition, of the three benefits commonly paid to teachers (medical, dental, and retirement plans), small private schools, on average, offered fewer than two of these benefits, while small public schools offered two and a half, on average. In contrast, large private schools offered 2.4 of these benefits on average, and the average among large public schools was 2.7 (table 2).
_________________________________________________________________ TABLE 2. MEANS OF TEACHER TURNOVER RATES AND OF SELECTED FACTORS, BY SCHOOL SECTOR AND SIZE. PUBLIC SCHOOLS PRIVATE SCHOOLS Large Small Large Small Number of students: (600+) (<300) (600+) (<300) ------------------------------------------------------------------- CHARACTERISTICS Pct. teacher turnover 7.7 10.3 9.3 17.0 Size of faculty 56.0 14.4 55.0 10.0 Pct. faculty w/3 or more yrs. experience 11.8 13.5 13.3 22.0 Pct. faculty with M.A. 48.5 37.2 42.8 23.3 No. of paid benefits 2.7 2.5 2.4 1.5 Maximum salary $42,421 $35,317 $32,727 $22,509 SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey (Public District and School Questionnaires).
An indication of the effects of differential salary and benefit
levels for public versus private schools is provided by data from
the 1991-92 NCES Teacher Followup Survey (TFS), which included a
sample of respondents to the 1990-91 SASS teacher survey who were
no longer teaching. About 17 percent of the former private school
teachers responding to this TFS who also reported themselves
dissatisfied with teaching as a career cited poor salary as one of
the three main reasons for leaving the profession. This compares
to less than 1 percent of former public school teachers who also
reported themselves as dissatisfied with teaching as an occupation
(Bobbitt, Leich, Whitener, and Lynch 1994).
The relationships among salaries, benefits, and turnover rates can
be expected to affect the composition of faculty in public and
private schools. In small private schools in 1990-91, where the
turnover rate was 17 percent, teachers tended to be less
experienced in the profession than those in large public schools.
On average, 22 percent of the instructional staff in small private
schools had less than 3 years of the experience, compared to
approximately 12 percent in large public schools (table 2). Also,
teachers in small private schools were less likely on average to
have earned advanced degrees than those in large public schools.
Fewer than one-quarter of the staff in small private schools, for
example, had earned at least a master's degree in 1990-91, while
almost one-half of the teachers in large public schools had earned
Although some teacher turnover from schools may be unavoidable,
normal, and even beneficial, high rates of turnover are of concern
because they may indicate underlying problems and because in and of
themselves, they can disrupt the effectiveness of the school
program. For these reasons, data from the 1990-91 SASS raise
important questions for education research and policy. If smaller
schools are constrained by the salaries and employee benefits they
can offer, what else might these schools emphasize about their
environments to retain teachers? In addition to higher salaries
and greater numbers of benefits, do large schools offer more
opportunities for movement *within* the school and, for that
reason, lead fewer teachers to feel the need to move on to new,
outside opportunities? What can we learn from schools serving
large percentages of poor students that have lower turnover rates
than other schools serving similar students?
These relationships between school characteristics and teacher
turnover provide a frame of reference for studies seeking to
clarify factors related to teacher career development and the
development of supportive school climates. Clearly, more research
is needed on the specific influences that affect teachers'
decisions to remain at their schools or in the profession. In
addition, the consequences of high rates of teacher turnover for
the students and remaining staff are important to describe as
greater attention is paid to strengthening schools as learning
Bobbitt, S.A., Leich, M.C., Whitener, S.D., and Lynch, H.F. (1994). CHARACTERISTICS OF STAYERS, MOVERS, AND LEAVERS: RESULTS FROM THE TEACHER FOLLOWUP SURVEY, 1991-92.
Choy, S., Henke, R., Alt, M., Medrich, E., and Bobbitt, S. (1993).
SCHOOLS AND STAFFING IN THE U.S.: A STATISTICAL PROFILE, 1990-91.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of
Educational Research and Improvement (NCES Report No. 93-146).
Ingersoll, R.M. and Bobbitt, S.A. (1995). TEACHER SUPPLY, TEACHER
QUALIFICATIONS, AND TEACHER TURNOVER: 1990-91. Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and
Improvement (NCES Report No. 95-744).
Rosenholtz, S. (1985). "Political Myths about Education Reform:
Lessons from Research on Teaching," PHI DELTA KAPPAN, 66: 349-355.
ISSUE BRIEFS present information on education topics of current
interest. All estimates shown are based upon samples and are
subject to sampling variability. All differences reported are
statistically significant at the .05 level. In the design,
conduct, and data processing of NCES surveys, efforts are made to
minimize the effects of nonsampling errors, such as item
nonresponse, measurement error, data processing error, or other
This ISSUE BRIEF was prepared by Richard Ingersoll and Robert
Rossi, American Institutes for Research. To obtain standard errors
or definitions of terms for this ISSUE BRIEF, or to obtain
additional information about the 1990-91 Schools and Staffing
Survey, contact Kerry Gruber at (202) 502-7349. To order
additional copies of this ISSUE BRIEF or other NCES publications,
Ask for NCES publication number: 95-778.