Editorial: Teacher turnover not always bad for schools

From the Daily Mail of Charleston, W.Va.:

Teacher turnover in the public school system costs the state of West Virginia between $5 million and $10.6 million per year, according to report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Nationwide, about 13 percent of teachers either move to another state or leave the teaching profession altogether. West Virginia ranks far lower in teacher attrition, with an estimated level of only five percent during the 2007-2008 school year studied by the Alliance.

Attrition occurs in every profession, from a high of 35 percent in the food industry to a low of eight percent in the utility industry, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. The average attrition rate for most areas of employment is 15 percent, SHRM says.

And while school system officials certainly should work to reduce unwanted turnover, particularly of innovative and creative teachers, not all turnover is bad. The tricky part is to develop methods to keep good teachers while weeding out those who aren’t truly interested, for whatever reasons, in student achievement.

Business recruiting specialist Dr. John Sullivan estimates that one-quarter of attrition is “desirable turnover” when bottom performers leave on their own, an employee with low skills is replaced by someone with more relevant skills and a capable retiree has agreed to come back to fill in as needed.

Undesirable turnover includes a top innovator or high-potential individual leaves due to lack of development opportunities.

The Alliance report said most teachers leave because of inadequate administrative support, isolated working conditions, poor student discipline, low salaries and a lock of collective influence over school decisions.

The state of West Virginia has made much progress in these areas, according to the Department of Education. That may be true, but the department, state lawmakers and county school boards shouldn’t rest on the limited education reform passed so far.

The state needs to take the 2012 education efficiency audit recommendations further and continue to push control from state level to county schools, who in turn must further push control to individual principals, who need to give more freedom to individual teachers, thereby empowering the innovation and creativity that many teachers inherently possess.

And, the state needs to strengthen the programs it has to enhance desirable turnover, such as bringing in new teachers not just fresh out of college but professionals with many years of work-force experience who feel a calling to teach later in their career.

A five percent teacher turnover rate is very low. Considering the growing importance of a well-educated workforce and West Virginia’s low overall rankings on achievement scores, the education community must work to keep the undesirable turnover low, but not get in the way of desirable turnover.

Read more editorials at http://www.charlestondailymail.com

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