In a new report about the state’s 60,000 teachers, University of Washington researchers found that just a fifth of new teachers leave within five years in the profession.
It’s often said that beginning teachers leave their profession in droves within their first five years.
Even if that’s true elsewhere, it’s not the case in Washington state, according to a new study from the University of Washington.
Here, only about a fifth of new teachers leave before they’ve been in the classroom for five years. And the poverty level of the teacher’s school didn’t affect the likelihood of whether he or she would leave.
Those are some of the findings in a new, in-depth look at the makeup and retention of the state’s approximately 60,000 teachers that the UW’s College of Education prepared for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. While the researchers didn’t look at why teachers stay or leave, the report does provide a snapshot of the statewide teacher landscape.
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One concerning note: Even while the state’s teaching workforce is growing, it isn’t getting more racially diverse.
The number of Washington teachers has increased by about 11,000 in the past 20 years, the report says, and a bigger proportion of them are beginning teachers. In the 2010-11 school year, about 6 percent of all teachers were new. In 2015-16, about 12 percent were.
“We knew there was some increase, but that popped out at us,” said Marge Plecki, a University of Washington professor and one of the report’s authors. That change, she added, “has implications for how folks are mentored and supported in their first years of teaching.”
But there hasn’t been much change in the profession’s ethnic and racial balance. Twenty years ago, 94 percent of the state’s 49,000 teachers were white. In the 2015-16 school year, 90 percent of the state’s 60,000 teachers were white. The percentage of Hispanic teachers doubled, and the percentage of teachers from Asian, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian backgrounds also increased.
The proportion of black and Native American teachers both decreased. In the past 20 years, the proportion of black teachers declined from 1.6 percent to 1.2 percent of the teacher workforce, and the proportion of Native teachers fell from 0.8 percent to 0.7 percent.
The researchers said those statistics indicate that policies are needed to improve teacher diversity.
“It’s always been vital, but it’s even more pronounced now,” Plecki said.
Though national research has suggested that the poverty level of a school is a factor in teacher turnover, the researchers didn’t find that here, either.
“That’s good news,” Plecki said. “It’s not to say that in some cases it isn’t still a factor, but it wasn’t as powerful a predictor as other studies have shown.”
The researchers acknowledge that some districts and regions may have more trouble than others in recruiting and retaining teachers. But those difficulties aren’t because of any major changes in the teacher population statewide, Plecki said.
“If you’re in a rural district and you’re trying to find a science teacher, you’re panicked right now.” She said. “But that’s always been the case, and it’s not getting better.”
Other findings from the report:
• Beginning-teacher turnover in Washington has averaged about 25 percent over the past 20 years and has declined over the past five years.
• High-school teachers are more likely than elementary teachers to move to a different district or leave the profession entirely.
• The workforce is aging. About 32 percent of the state’s teachers are older than 50, compared with 20 percent in 1995.
• Part-time teachers are more likely than full-time teachers to leave the profession.
The full report is available at http://st.news/UWteacherreport.