The ed reform metanarrative around failing schools is that kids lose because adults in a sclerotic system fight like hell to preserve pay and perks and avoid accountability. That’s why ”good teachers” leave struggling schools while “bad teachers” linger in safe harbors. But a new paper by economists Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin finds it’s the weaker teachers who tend to leave underperfoming schools. Is teacher turnover about to join class size and teacher’s advanced degrees on the trash heap of factors that supposedly don’t matter to performance? Maybe, maybe not.
“The authors add that the benefits of losing weak teachers in these schools are offset by the fact that such schools often restaff with new teachers, who generally don’t become maximally effective until they’ve been in the classroom about three years or so,” sums up Stephen Sawchuk, who broke the news of the study earlier this week at Education Week.
The idea that veteran teachers who stick around hard-to-staff schools are more successful than those who leave is surely no surprise to those who have worked at such a school. Stability breeds success (think of your own elementary school; chances are there was little teacher turnover). People who are successful tend to stick around in any line of work; no one likes to come home feeling like a failure every day. The takeaway seems to be turnover’s not so bad, but Sawchuk correctly notes “the paper doesn’t take into account the disruption and low morale that seem likely to accompany an always-revolving staff door.”
I also wonder what this study means for champions of performance pay. The logic of merit pay suggests successful teachers need an incentive to stay put. The study suggests they’re already doing so.