Constrained Job Matching: Does Teacher Job Search Harm Disadvantaged Urban Schools?

Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin
National Bureau of Economic Research
March 2010

Is teacher turnover a bad thing for student achievement, particularly when it occurs in high-needs schools? The study’s results challenge conventional wisdom by answering, No, not really. Analysts examined a matched teacher-student math achievement data set from one large (unidentified) school district in Texas in grades 4 through 8 for school years 1995-96 to 2000-01. The key finding: A whopping 30 percent of new teachers left their current school each year compared to 18 percent of veterans. Furthermore, exiters were significantly less effective on average than those who stay, regardless of whether they are compared to all stayers in the district or to the stayers in their school. Further, results reveal a similar pattern when school type is taken into consideration: Teachers who leave low-achieving schools or schools with higher percentages of black students are, on average, less effective compared to stayers, than those who leave higher-achieving schools or those with fewer black students. So, the takeaway is this: Teacher turnover is alive and well, but it doesn’t mean that schools are losing their best teachers, nor does it appear to adversely affect student achievement in math. (The analysts do posit, however, that the benefit of losing weak teachers is “offset” by the potential disadvantage of an influx of new teachers who are still learning the ropes.) While this study of one school district won’t settle the question of the impact of teacher turnover and departure on student outcomes, it is an important (and contrary) contribution to the field. Find it here.

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