Research finds incentive, support programs most effective for retaining teachers
MANHATTAN — A comprehensive review of 120 national research projects spanning 40 years finds the keys to teacher retention — including early-career educators and those in hard-to-staff areas such as special needs and STEM fields — are in incentive and support programs. Equally substantive, the meta-analysis disproved the long-held connection between performance evaluations and teacher attrition.
Tuan D. Nguyen, a Kansas State University College of Education assistant professor, led the research team that recently published "The Correlates of Teacher Turnover: An Updated and Expanded Meta-Analysis of the Literature" in Educational Research Review, which is ranked second among educational research journals.
The meta-analysis offered new insights, identified underexamined factors and illuminated the connections between educational policy and teacher turnover.
"This crucial study examined the evidence on what drove teachers to quit the profession or move from one school to another," Nguyen said. "It has far-reaching implications for policymakers and school administrators in districts and states committed to reducing teacher turnover."
The researchers discovered substantial evidence that improving school organizational characteristics, such as reducing student disciplinary problems, improving administrative support and supporting teacher collaborations, may reduce the risk of turnover. Moreover, despite some concerns of potential negative consequences of teacher evaluation and accountability from policymakers and educators, the data did not indicate that performance evaluations increase teacher attrition.
To the contrary, their research suggested that when teachers are evaluated and the results of their evaluations or measures of effectiveness are made available, teachers are not more likely to turn over. In fact, the evidence indicated that teachers may be enticed to stay as they are provided with some urgency, sense of empowerment and evidence of areas for professional improvement. This held true even when teacher evaluations were used to determine accountability and pay raises.
Relatedly, substantial evidence emerged that teachers in merit-based pay programs were less likely to leave teaching than those who were not. This was important as the researchers also found evaluation and accountability policies tended to be associated with keeping the most effective teachers and removing the least effective teachers — as measured by value-added scores.
In short, Nguyen said, evaluation and strategic compensation reforms may be leveraged to improve the composition of the teacher workforce. Increasing teacher salary was also associated with improving teacher retention, but this effect was smaller in comparison to merit pay and retention bonuses.
"We'd like policymakers and administrators to understand that while there may be warranted concerns about teacher evaluation and accountability policies, they are more positively perceived by some teachers and have more beneficial effects than previously recognized," Nguyen said. "These factors can be used to improve the teacher workforce and reduce turnover."
No grant funding supported this study.
Nguyen's research interests include teacher leadership and school improvement, teacher policy and teacher labor market, and financial aid and postsecondary persistence.