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2005 Spotlight

Mobility in the Teacher Workforce


Each year teachers enter, leave, and move within the K–12 teacher workforce in the United States. Such movement affects not only the composition of teachers at individual schools and the institutional stability of these schools but also the demographics and qualifications of the teacher workforce as a whole. Understanding the dynamics of such change in the teacher workforce is important for policymakers weighing competing policies regarding such issues as teacher shortages, teacher attrition, and teacher quality. This special analysis describes the nature of the teacher workforce, looks at who joined and who left the workforce in 1999–2000, and compares these transitions with those in 1987–88, 1990–91, and 1993–94. The purpose of this special analysis is to provide a foundation for informed discussions of policies intended to address issues related to the teacher workforce.

Using the most recent national data on teachers, this special analysis addresses the following questions: What does the teacher workforce look like in a given year? How does the teacher workforce change within that year? Whom are schools hiring to be new teachers in that year? How many teachers do schools lose within that year? How long have teachers been at the same school when they leave? When and why do teachers leave a school or the profession?

The most recent national data on public and private school teachers come from two surveys sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): the 1999–2000 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and the related 2000–01 Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS). The 1999–2000 SASS, administered between September 1999 and June 2000, asked a nationally representative sample of over 50,000 public and private school teachers about their work environment, classroom teaching, teaching qualifications, and other individual characteristics.1 The 2000–01 TFS, administered between January and May 2001, asked a representative sample of over 5,000 SASS participants a series of follow-up questions about how their job had changed since the previous year.2 Respondents included those who continued teaching the year after completing the initial SASS and those who left the profession. Unless otherwise noted, the data presented in this special analysis come from the 1999–2000 SASS or the 2000–01 TFS.

To describe the nature of the teacher workforce and look at who joined and who left the workforce within a given year, this special analysis begins with a profile of the demographics of the workforce. The next section examines how many new teachers are hired each of the years studied, how the characteristics of newly hired teachers differ from teachers already in the workforce, and how these new hires are distributed across different types of schools. The following section considers what proportion of teachers transfer or leave teaching each of the years studied, how these teachers differ from teachers who continue to teach, and how their rates of departure vary for different types of schools. It also examines differences in the length of time teachers who left their school had taught in that school. The next section examines the reasons teachers give for leaving and transferring. At the conclusion of the special analysis is a summary of the key findings.

It is important to recognize several important points about this special analysis. First, unless otherwise stated, this special analysis reports all percentages as percentages of the entire teacher workforce or an entire subgroup of the workforce (e.g., all private school teachers). This is done to allow readers to make comparisons easily across time and between subgroups. Second, this special analysis can identify and describe types of changes in the teacher workforce that occur within a year, but it cannot measure exactly how the teacher workforce as a whole changed from the beginning of one year to the beginning of the next year because of the limitations of SASS and TFS data.3 Third, while this special analysis provides a foundation for understanding how the teacher workforce changes, it does not attempt to sort out the causes or determinants of such changes.

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1The 1999–2000 SASS Teacher surveys were administered from September 1999 through June 2000. The SASS School surveys were administered from October 1999 through June 2000. The SASS District surveys were administered from September 1999 through June 2000. These various timeframes include the selection of the teacher sample and the first mailings of the surveys through final telephone and field follow-up of nonrespondents. (back to text)

2The 2000–01 TFS surveys were administered from September 2000 through May 2001. Again, this timeframe includes initial determination of the teacher’s status and the first mailings of the surveys through final telephone and field follow-up of nonrespondents. (back to text)

3SASS and TFS data reveal a great deal of information about teacher transitions, and data from one administration can be compared with data collected during other administrations of SASS and TFS to have some sense of whether the characteristics of teachers who join and leave the teacher workforce change over time. However, the data on newly hired teachers are from one year and the data on teachers who leave are from the following year. Thus, they can neither reveal how one year’s newly hired teachers compare with the teachers they replaced nor allow one to compare the patterns of turnover change from each of the years studied by SASS and TFS.(back to text)