Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis

Richard M. Ingersoll, American Educational Research Journal, Fall 2001

In this review published in the American Educational Research Journal, Penn education sociologist Richard M. Ingersoll pokes imaginatively into the question of whether high teacher turnover rates arise from immutable demographic shifts, fundamental supply shortages, individual teacher characteristics, or organizational characteristics of the schools themselves. Mind you, he went in search of the latter. And he found some interesting evidence that various school characteristics cause lots of teachers to leave (about 15% per year of late). He concludes that "School staffing problems are primarily due to excess demand resulting from a 'revolving door' - where large numbers of qualified teachers depart their jobs for reasons other than retirement." He thus partakes of the field's common assumption that teaching ought to be a lifetime career, not something that one simply does for a while before or after doing something else. But if you share his assumption, you must be alarmed by his conclusion that no supply-enhancing efforts in K-12 teaching can possibly succeed until and unless steps are taken to curb the "excess demand" that he identified. (Incidentally, the highest turnover rates he found are not in public schools at all but in small private schools.) What is going on? Ingersoll says that "Retirement accounts for a relatively small number of departures, a moderate number of departures are reported due to school staffing actions, a larger proportion of teachers indicate they depart for personal reasons [e.g. health, family], and an even larger proportion report that they depart either because they are dissatisfied with their jobs or in order to seek better jobs or other career opportunities." Policy makers should ponder these findings, which suggest that many sources of teacher turnover are, or could be, amenable to policy intervention. You can get a copy by emailing outreach@aera.net or by calling 202-223-9485.

More By Author