Friday, September 5, 2014

Pre-doctoral program warm-up: A look at high school teacher turnover in Hanover County, Virginia

This past summer in conjunction with a local public education advocacy group, Friends of Hanover Schools, that I am a part of, I engaged in a little pre-doctoral program warm-up. 

At a Hanover County School Board forum in the spring, I had expressed concern about high school teacher turnover  and was told more or less that my concerns were unfounded. Other members of the FOHS leadership team had also been long concerned about high school teacher turnover, so after they and I spent some time gathering information from the division, I compiled a report of my findings. Other members of the leadership team gave feedback and provided edits for the final version. I may do something with this later or I may decide it is too J-V :)

Here is a summary with links to the documents I used:

In the 2013-2014 school year, Hanover County Public Schools increased high school teachers’ workload and they went from teaching five of seven classes a day to teaching six of eight. After teachers protested the policy, saying it would affect the quality of instruction and feedback they’d be able to give students, Friends of Hanover Schools began to hear reports of low morale, of higher than average teacher resignations and retirements, and of increasing numbers of teachers seeking positions elsewhere. I took a closer look at the data regarding teacher turnover in Hanover and compiled a report of my findings which was distributed to school division leadership.

According to budget and retirements and resignations data provided by Hanover County Public Schools, the combined turnover rates for all four of the comprehensive high schools are:
School yearResignRetireTotalTotal teachersPercentage turnover
10 year average400804804795.64910.01%
*The data for 2013-2014 is as of August 6, 2014.

Other than the schedule re-alignment, several factors may have influenced teacher turnover in Hanover County such as the economic recession after 2007-2008, retirement incentives offered in 2007 – 2008, and school-site specific issues such as administrative instability or transition.

According to studies of teacher turnover (compiled by Mary Levy), the national average for teachers who leave a school district system leavers is 8% with higher poverty systems yielding closer to 15 – 20%. Hanover County high school teachers leave, on average, at a consistently higher rate than the national average. Furthermore, for the past two years, the percentage of turnover that can be attributed to high school teachers has grown to 43.5% of all teachers. In all other years, with one exception, the percentage was roughly one-third. Finally, based on an assumption of a teacher corps of 1500 teachers, the system-wide attrition rate was 6.87% for 2012-2013 and thus far 5.05% for 2013-2014, but the four high schools consistently have rates higher than that, closer to 10% on average.

The data available are limited but do paint a picture of close to double-digit turnover rates at the high school level, Furthermore, the numbers spiked in 2012-2013, when a policy change to a six of eight teaching schedule was announced.

FOHS and I urge the school division to undertake a more qualitative study of teacher satisfaction rates by:
  • Finding out more about the kind of teachers who are leaving. How much experience do they have? Are they National Board certified? Hanover Scholar Educators? STEM-area teachers? REB-award winners?
  • Opening up channels for all teachers and staff to give positive feedback and constructive criticism. Healthy schools and school systems are ones that welcome informed feedback of its employees.