Issues Challenging Education CLOUDS AND SUN

The New Dropouts

MSA Educational Leadership Program

UNC-Chapel Hill

What is the issue?

The United States is in the midst of an educational revolution. The major impetus for this massive restructuring according to Bechtol and Sorenson (1993) is the charge that U.S. schools are failing to prepare students to perform at a level commensurate "with countries whom we compete for international trade" such as Germany, Canada, Australia, France, and Great Britain (p. 8). Those who agree with the argument that schools are failing to deliver a high quality education, assign the blame for poor student performance to teachers ). The continual criticism of U.S. schools, the framing of teachers as incompetent, and other concomitant needs critical to job satisfaction (e.g., salary) have led to dissatisfaction and diminution of the teacher workforce. In other words, disenchanted teachers are dropping out of public schools.

There is a plethora of social, technological, economic, and political issues creating turbulence in the educational arena today. Those that have received much attention include school safety, accountability, curricula, equity, and privatization. Although the attrition of public school teachers from the profession is not new, it is an issue of increasing concern in education. In the aggregate, the literature states that retention of qualified teachers is difficult for school districts. According to ), the rate of attrition among teachers is high with "thirty percent of the beginning teachers leaving the profession within their first two years " and "sixty-two percent within five years." (p. ). Attrition has no boundaries as teachers regardless of their age, ethnicity, gender, grade level or subject matter are leaving the profession for various reasons.

Policymakers and the educational administration at the local, state, and federal levels have all enlisted to do combat to replenish the teacher workforce and heighten teacher retention rates. As with any regiment, those on the front line must be equipped with the necessary resources to be victorious. In order to do so, it is imperative that educational policymakers investigate why teachers leave the classroom and develop an organized system of attracting, developing, supporting and retaining effective teachers ). Our purpose is to examine the issue of teacher attrition in an effort to delineate its causes, discuss its implications, and make recommendations for action by educational leaders that will effectively address the issue.

Driving Forces

A review of the literature shows a common teacher profile along with certain personal and external factors that reveals why teachers' are leaving the classroom. Even though pressures relative to the job and demands for change over time, the studies reflect a pattern that is a valid and current image of teacher attrition. FurthermoreFuthermore, the reports were helpful in detailing the commonalties of age, years experience, credentials, contending with difficulties skills and teaching disciplines among teachers who leave the teaching profession (). The personal reasons given by teachers were mainly retirement and health-related. Significant external reasons stated were: working conditions, compensation, administrative support, job status (or lack thereof), and school characteristics. Other external reasons given, such as, lack of student readiness to learn, were not statistically significant.

Profile: The new dropout of the teaching profession is a special educator who is less than 35 years of age holding a provisional teaching certificate and bachelor's degree. Further investigation reveals high attrition at the extreme ends of the teachers' age progression. "Attrition was highest among full-time teachers age 60 and older and among those under 30, and was lowest among those in their 40s" ). The 1990-91 statistics from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS, 1991) indicate that among the teachers leaving, 20.7% were under age 30. The highest percentage is clearly with the 60+ age group at 64%.

It is apparent from the massive reduction of veteran teachers that attrition is higher for teachers with 25 or more years of experience. The second highest percentage belongs to those with 0-9 years experience. The zero indicates the teacher did not complete at least one full school year ).

Ordinarily, teachers with the least experience only held a bachelor's degree and a provisional certificate (Brownell, Smith, McNellis, & Lenk, 1995, p. 99). A provisional certificate extends temporary teaching privileges for one or two years and is contingent upon receiving professional development training. A bachelor's degree outside the field of education does not qualify an individual to be a teacher.

Brownell, Smith, McNellis, & Lenk (1995) report that the new dropouts had less than adequate skills when compared with those that stayed. For example, some teachers suppressed the problems they encountered. Others sought a solution to their dilemmas by crying. These passive strategies did nothing to resolve the classroom conflicts. In fact, these inadequate coping skills were the impetus driving these teachers to leave the profession.

Active problem solving tactics are essential for teachers to remain in the classroom. For special education teachers these skills are an absolute necessity. SpecialThis category of special education teachers with low coping skills areis more at-risk for burnout and attrition than the general education teacher. According to Brownell et al., these new teacher dropouts wanted help to survive in their classrooms; they. The teachers felt unable to handle to provide instruction due to discipline problems. The attrition rate for special education teachers with less than 5 years experience was up to 43% in 1993. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) studies founddepict a correlation between teacher dropoutthis significant rate and the teachers' purpose and commitment to work with children who have special needs. SThe special education teachers that stay in the profession express an altruistic purpose and deep personal obligation to serve special education children. Those that leave have an unselfish regard for students as well, but lack the degree of conviction found in the teachers that remain (Brownell, et al.).

Personal Factors: There are other determinants that figure into teacher attrition. The job must provide certain qualities and characteristics to attract and retain teachers. ) examine many of these aspects from working conditions to professional status.(readers expect you to elaborate these factors at this point)

However, Choy and his colleagues the authors fail to mention the two leading causes of teacher workforce reduction. According to SASS 1990-91 data, 30.4% of the teaching workforce left due to retirement (do retirees qualify as dropouts?) and 30.3% left because of family, health, pregnancy or child rearing. (where is the reference for the SASS data?) Retirement and issues related to health account for nearly two-thirds of the reasons why teachers exited the profession. The high retirement figure also corresponds to the high attrition of sexagenarians. These statistics indicate that elementary teachers who left because of pregnancy or child-rearing were almost twice that for secondary teachers. On the other hand, secondary teachers had a slightly higher retirement rate than elementary teachers ().

External Factors: Many teacher dropouts cite less than ideal working conditions as a cause of their exodus. The average full-time teacher, both elementary and secondary, spends a mean of 45 hours per week doing school work. The teachers spend the bulk of this time at school in the classroom and at school-related meetings. The remainder of time is doing other school-related work (grading papers, calling parents, and preparing lesson plans) away from the building site. This calculates to approximately 4.5 weeks of nonpaid employment for teachers.

Dissatisfaction with teacher salary receives the most publicity for teacher attrition. The entry-level salary is among the lowest paid for professions requiring a bachelor's degree. The salary scale increases slightly with additional education and experience but is the same for all grade levels and subject areas. Salaries paid to teachers have not kept pace with the cost of living. In 1987-88 and 1993-94, teachers' salaries actually reveal a decline of 4% each year once adjustments were made for inflation. Salary differences vary among regions throughout the nation. On the average the Northeast pays the highest and the South the lowest. A full range of paid benefits helps to offset the low salaries ().

Another factor of teacher attrition is the lack of administrative support. Generally, teachers look to the principal for information, feedback, and emotional support. Teachers "reported frequent unexplained or unimportant paperwork requirements, unnecessary bureaucratic procedures, autocratic and untrusting behaviors, and failure to listen to problems and suggestions...." (Brownell, et al., p. 101). Some teachers felt principals were not supportive if they did not handle student discipline to their liking. Yet, others felt the principal was not being supportive if he or she did not understand their programs and allocate funds necessary to meet their needs. Teachers do not believe their opinions are of value to the administrators. Teachers reiterate feelings of frustration and anger over their minimal decision making input. Teachers that leave cannot cope with such a sense of powerlessness. Generally, their decisions were limited to "curriculum or instructional methods" (Brownell, et. al., p. 101).

Lack of professional respect extends to the community at large and is pervasive through out the country. Parents discourage their children from entering the teaching profession, namely, because of the low status and low pay. There is a strong societal desire to work in a profession of value and esteem (Gordon, 1994, p. 350).

School characteristics also play a part in the teacher workforce erosion. Schools that have "high concentrations of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches..., on average, a teacher turnover rate of about 10 percent in 1990-91). This reflects an average rate of 2 percent above schools with a lower concentration. More teachers left poverty schools but few left affluent schools. Interestingly, a higher attrition rate is common among smaller schools (less than 300 students). Lower salaries and fewer benefits are the primary contributors to this rate increase. Central city schools loss more teachers than rural or urban schools. School safety certainly was a contributing factor to this statistic.

Leavers of the teaching profession frequently cited working conditions, economical, social and professional obstacles as cause to seek employment outside the field of education. Patterns among school size, location, and economic status show a relationship among compensation, professionalization and teacher retention. Aspects of school environments (lack of administrative support, lack of decision-making input, etc.) are also associated with increases in teacher attrition.


The implications of teacher attrition for the coming years revolve around several issues. These issues include not only supply and demand, but the underlying question of teacher quality. If schools only want warm bodies in the classroom, they will find teachers without much problem. Then the question of why teachers are leaving the profession will not be an issue. On the other hand if schools want the best teachers working with students, then both the demand and quality of teachers needs to be addressed.

According to the total elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to increase to 54.6 million by the year 2006. The increases will vary according to the region. The West will see the highest increase in total enrollmentenroolment at 21 percent. The South projected enrollment increase is 10 percent. The Northeast rise is expected to be 4 percent while the Midwest is projected to increase by 3 percent. Furthermore:

Changes in public school enrollment are projected to vary by state between 1994 and the year 2006. Public school enrollment is projected to increase 10 percent between 1994 and the year 2006. Sizable increases are expected in Alaska (19 percent), Delaware (28 percent), California (26 percent), and Washington (20 percent). Decreases are expected in District of Columbia (11 percent), Maine (6 percent), North Dakota (8 percent), and West Virginia (3 percent).

Along with the increasing student enrollment will come the need for more teachers. Using a conservative projection, the number of teachers will increase from 2.96 million in 1994 to 3.43 million by the year 2006, which is an increase of 16 percent. A low projection would be 11 percent and a high projection 20 percent.A parallel problem is the aging of our current teachers. One third of the nation's current teachers are 45 and older. These teachers will be eligible to retire soon.

The problem of quality revolves around the teaching fields with the most severe shortages.

The Association for School, College, and University Staffing reported in the 1990 edition of an annual survey of teacher supply and demand that 14 of the 45 teaching fields studied suffered from "some shortage" of teachers.

The survey of school and university placement officials, who are asked to describe conditions in their area, reported `considerable shortage' in bilingual education, various types of special education, and speech pathology. Some shortage was reported in physics, mathematics, computer science, Spanish, chemistry, and counseling at both the elementary and secondary level, among other specialties.

One-third of all new teachers assigned to teach mathematics, science, social studies education, and special education were neither certified nor eligible for certification in those fields.

In one attrition study conducted at the University of Florida in the fall of 1995, "stress, perceived manageability of workload, and certification status" (Brownell, Smith and Miller, 1995) were indicated as the reasons for special education teachers leaving the profession. The shortage of qualified teachers in special education is causing districts to reassign teachers from other fields to teach courses, increase teacher workloads, use alternative certification and liberalize the certification rules. This approach decreases the shortage but leads to unqualified teachers who teach the students who need the most qualified and experienced teachers.(double space between single spaced paragraphs)

Teacher shortages in the fields of mathematics and science have led to generations of students receiving less than optimal instruction. As a result, schools offer fewer higher level courses because there may be fewer students needed them. The other option is to hire teachers from other areas of certification. According to a study by , one out of five public school teachers were not teaching in the area in which they qualified. High school students in high-minority schools only have a 50% chance of being taught by a qualified mathematics or science teacher. Our students with the greatest need for improving their education are receiving the least poorest instruction.

Finally, we must look at the increasing need for teachers of color. states that:

In 1990-91, 9.2% of public elementary and secondary school teachers were Black/African American, 3.1% were Hispanic, and 1% were Asian/Pacific Islanders (Snyer & Hoffman, 1994) The need for more teachers of color becomes evident when one looks at how student enrollment patterns in public elementary and secondary schools have altered the makeup of the classroom. From 1976 to 1990, the percentage of White students enrolled in such schools decreased almost 17%. In the same period, the enrollment of Black/Americans decreased about 2% to a total of 16%, the enrollment of Hispanics increased by 68% to a total of 12%, and the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islanders enrolled increased approximately 158% to a total of 3%.

Clearly there is an increasing need for teachers of color. Without these teachers the students of color have no one who completely understands their culture and relates to them. These teachers are also increasingly important for students who fall into at-risk categories. School districts must recruit and retain teachers of color. Universities and colleges must be committed to graduating more teachers of color in education programs.

Obviously school districts must not only try to keep up with the demand for teachers especially in areas of need such as special education, mathematics and science, but the quality of these teachers. They must not only retain teachers, but retain and recruit teachers of color. They must not only find ways to keep teachers in suburban areas but in rural and inner city schools also.

(you combined the sections of where the issue is going with implications.


In order to decrease the teacher attrition that is occurring in our nation's public schools, educational leaders must concentrate on improvement in two areas: training and professionalization. The training of future teachers should be extended beyond the one semester that is required by most universities. According to ), Jane Norwood, a North Carolina State Board member and an education professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., asserts that only a certain amount of classroom management can be taught--the rest must come from actual practice. She recommends that schools allow longer student-teaching assignments, and that administrators avoid giving student-teachers troublesome classes (Ponessa, 1996).

The training of new teachers should continue where the pre-service training ends. New teachers, according to John Dornan, the executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, "tend to feel overwhelmed by classroom responsibilities and often do not receive proper support."They need to be involved in a mentor program that allows them to work very closely with an experienced teacher who will help guide them through the day-to-day operations of a classroom teacher. Pam Huff, a teacher at Northern Granville Middle School in Oxford, N.C. refers to teaching as the "only profession where on your first day on the job, you're expected to do the exact same job as someone who's been there for 20 years." She also adds, "A lot of times when people have problems there is not anyone to turn to." A quality mentor program could eliminate that problem.

Teacher professionalization is the final area that needswill need improvement in order to reduce the teacher attrition rate in the U.S. Teacher professionalization is the movement to upgrade the status, timing, and working conditions of teachers.Professionalization refers to the degree to which particular employees and their workplaces exhibit the attributes, characteristics, and criteria identified with professions and professionals. The 1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data reveal that despite reform initiatives, most schools lack many of the characteristics associated with professionalization. According to the National Center offo Educational StatisticsStatistcs, for example, only a small number of schools provided assistance to new teachers that the teaching staffs strongly agreed was effective. Only a few schools provided financial reimbursement for teachers' continuing education tuition and fees. In only a minority of schools did principals report their faculties to have as much decision-making influence as they themselves had over key educational issues. Finally, starting salaries for teachers in most schools were lower than those in many occupations that require a college education.

Teacher professionalization must originate with the educational leaders and it. It must be demonstrated and valued at all levels of the educational bureaucracy. Teachers must be reimbursed for continuing education tuition and fees, given decision-making power, and paid on a level commensurate to their education and value to our society as a whole.

Policymakers and the educational administration at the local, state, and federal levels must work diligentlydilligently to reduce the number of teachers that are leaving the profession. According to President Clinton, education must build the bridge to the 21st century. Qualified teachers must be acquired and retained to work as bridge builders. In other words, we must save the new drop outs.


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