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Paper Co-authored by Assistant Professor Lam Pham Provides In-depth Analysis of Teacher Turnover

NC State College of Education Assistant Professor Lam Pham

Lam Pham, Ph.D., assistant professor in the NC State College of Education, has found through his research that disruptions from high levels of teacher turnover are one of the most salient factors that lead to schools falling into a cycle of low performance and being labeled as chronically low-performing.

With the goal of making sure that good teachers remain in the classroom, Pham has devoted his research to issues surrounding teacher turnover, including co-authoring a recently published paper that provides a comprehensive study of factors contributing to teacher attrition and retention.

“The Correlates of Teacher Turnover: An Updated and Expanded Meta-analysis of the LIterature,” published in Educational Research Review, aims to update the collective understanding of correlates of teacher attrition and highlight advances in literature by reviewing findings from 120 studies of related factors. The study examines the characteristics of teachers who turnover, the characteristics of those teachers’ work environments and conditions outside the school that could affect their decisions.

According to Pham and the paper’s co-authors, Tuan. D. Nguyen, of Kansas State University; Michael Crouch, of Vanderbilt University; and Matthew G. Springer, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, it is the first meta-analytic synthesis of this literature in more than a decade.

“The factors contributing to teachers’ decisions to leave their schools have changed quite a bit over time, especially in the last 10 years. For example, the teacher labor force has changed dramatically because women, who in the past would likely pursue teaching, now have a much broader set of employment opportunities,” Pham said. “Educational policies around teacher recruitment, development and retention have matured rapidly over the last decade and we have not had a quantitative review on the research on how these various policies influence teacher turnover.”

Through their meta-analysis, Pham and his co-authors find that female teachers and teachers with graduate degrees are not more likely to turnover than male teachers or teachers without graduate degrees, which stands in contrast to the previous study on the topic, published in 2008.

The study also found that rigorous teacher evaluation systems do not increase turnover, which refutes the hypothesis that teachers may become more likely to leave their jobs because of the stress that accompanies evaluations.

One finding that Pham believes warrants additional attention going forward is the fact that minority race teachers have reduced odds of turnover compared with their white counterparts. This is important, he said, because research shows that minoritized students perform better in school when they have a teacher who looks like them.

“One important but still nascent area of literature, that includes work from [College of Education Associate Professor] Anna Egalite, examines how racial and gender congruence between teachers and students affects achievement. I think future work in this area is vitally important to supporting equity in our schools,” Pham said. “I also believe it is important to expand the literature examining the racial and gender congruence between teachers and principals and how these factors influence teachers’ turnover decisions.”

The study also examines relevant policy factors that can impact teacher turnover, including retention bonuses and merit pay, both of which are connected to lower rates of teacher turnover.

Pham and his co-authors conclude by recommending that policymakers looking to recruit and retain high quality educators recognize that teachers have ever-increasing employment options outside of the education sector and that there is a need to strengthen schools’ ability to compete for young, talented teachers in high-need subject areas.

“I think the paper provides evidence showing that a decade of concerted policy efforts aimed at teacher recruitment, development and retention has not been in vain. In documenting the expansion of these teacher-focused policies, this paper provides important guidance on the policies that have a track record of success, policies that still need refinement and policies that have yet to be tried,” Pham said. “I believe this type of work allows us to learn about what has worked in the past and helps inform the development of future teacher retention policies.”