National Turnover Rate in Early Education

National Turnover Rate in Early Education: Overview

Teacher turnover rates are a growing problem. From increased administrative responsibilities and budgetary cuts to staffing shortages and burnout, districts across the United States face an impossible cycle. As more teachers leave the profession, teaching conditions become more challenging, making it harder to attract and retain quality teachers. Officials, district leaders, and administrators need to fully understand the contexts surrounding teacher turnover rates before they can take steps to improve conditions and promote longevity in such an essential position.

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What is the National Early Education Turnover Rate for Teachers?

"Teacher turnover" applies to any situation where a teacher steps down from their position and either leaves an institution or switches to a non-educational role. According to the Learning Policy Institute's findings, the overall turnover rate in the U.S. is currently about 16%, a significantly high range compared to historic figures. Data from the University of Pennsylvania's Faculty Research show Public teacher turnover rates were 7.4% between the 1999 and 2001 school years.

Districts and administrators can determine school-specific turnover rates by dividing the number of teachers who vacated their position in a specific period by the number of teachers employed at the start of that period.

Historical Changes in Teacher Turnover Rates

Teacher turnover rates have steadily increased since the 1990s when the average rate was only 5%, according to Learning Policy Institute findings. Experts attribute part of the increase to characteristics of today's workforce compared to those of the late 20th century. Research shows that today's teachers are older and less experienced than they've ever been, with turnover rates rising for experienced teachers.

Part of this could be due to changes in retirement rates and ages over the last several decades, but no one factor is to blame for these growing rates. It's taken a combination of growing pressures to get here.

Early Childhood Educator Turnover in the 21st Century

Turnover rates in each state, district, and individual school show that a myriad of factors is at play. The 21st century brought massive changes to the field of education - the internet introduced a world of new advantages and challenges, and instructors had to adapt to fast-moving technological advancements.

Trends and changes between the 20th and 21st centuries could provide more actionable insight for administrators. For example, some studies published by the Institute of Educated Sciences found that smaller school districts have a higher three-year retention rate than large school districts. The study also found that three-year retention rates are consistently lower in high-need schools.

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Why Is There High Turnover in Early Childhood Education Jobs?

If you ask an early childhood educator what drew them to their profession, most will mention their love for what they do. In a survey conducted by Education Week, more than two in five teachers surveyed cited caring for young people as their number one reason for sticking with a position or school. Other reasons to stay included retirement benefits and passion for the subjects they teach.

Still, the statistics and labor shortages don't lie - turnover rates are increasing, and a love for the classroom is no longer enough for many teachers. Some reasons can be attributed to national and state-level policies, while others are regional and institution-specific. Some of the most common issues are low compensation rates, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and teacher burnout.

Compensation and High Teacher Turnover Rates

The Report on the Condition of Education 2021 lists the average base salary for public school teachers working full-time during the 2017 and 2018 school years at just under $58,000. The highest average earners were teachers with 30 or more years of experience, who earned around $70,000. Additionally, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that more than half of public school teachers in the same time period had a master's or doctorate degree and had an average salary ranging from the low to high $60,000s.

These higher degrees come at a cost, and in 2017, data collected by Sallie Mae shows that could be as much as an extra $20K on top of the cost of a bachelor's degree. Higher education costs have steadily outpaced the inflation rate by 171.5%, according to research through the Education Data Initiative.

In addition to increasing education costs, Forbes reports that the average cost of living in some states grew so much in 2018 alone that residents in top growing cities needed a 30% income increase to accommodate the changes that year.

The numbers don't paint a profitable picture for educators. Inflation, cost of living, and classroom challenges have grown, while teacher compensation has remained stagnant. In many regions, compensation is too low to support the average teacher enough for long-term retention.

COVID-19 and High Teacher Turnover Rates

The U.S. News & World Report published that more than 60% of public school vacancies at the start of 2022 were directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the most obvious concerns being immunocompromised instructors or teachers otherwise more vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19 symptoms. Research by Education Week also found that 84% of participating instructors reported teaching as more stressful now than it was before pandemic-related school closings.

As teachers stepped down from their positions, either for health-related concerns or as a result of growing stressors, it sometimes left remaining staff to fulfill roles outside their normal duties. Some districts resorted to sharing teachers across multiple locations, adding to instructor responsibilities, and pausing or limiting many extra-curricular activities. The health crisis and subsequent vacancies left some districts so sparse that states mobilized the National Guard to step in.

While most teachers will attest to the growing burnout, stress, and uncertainty that's come with ever-changing policies and public pushback in the past two years, early childhood educators faced a uniquely difficult challenge. Many teachers sacrificed valuable classroom time to ensure younger children practiced social distancing and wore masks correctly, while older students who understood the importance of mask and distancing protocols waited.

Even with vaccine rollouts and lifted restrictions, schools are struggling to combat the lingering burnout and stress that years of online learning, in-person obstacles, and health anxiety have put on teachers worldwide.

Teacher Burnout

Burnout isn't a buzzword for stressed employees. The National Library of Medicine describes it as a psychological state of being that can impose serious side effects, such as:

  • Exhaustion
  • Digestive issues
  • Aches and pains
  • Reduced work performance
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Chronic stress
  • Loss of identity
  • Insomnia
  • Anger or irritability

Living and working in a state of burnout can have huge implications on a teacher's life. According to Mayo Clinic studies, as an individual's physical health declines, they may become unable to continue working or fulfilling other responsibilities. Individuals suffering from burnout also have a higher risk for conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, or substance misuse. Socially, people experiencing burnout are less likely to seek emotional support or participate in activities and hobbies to offset the stressors of their growing workload.

In a given week, the average teacher in the U.S. is responsible for creating lesson plans, guiding students, communicating with parents and administrators, attending meetings, grading assignments, leading afterschool programs, and organizing events. For many teachers, the list of responsibilities feels endless. When stressors like growing inflation costs, lack of sufficient compensation, chronic understaffing, and increased administrative burdens are added, it's easy to see why many teachers leave the classroom to preserve their mental wellbeing.

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The Effects of High Teacher Turnover Rates

Most teachers don't pursue years of higher education intending to leave the profession. Teaching students takes a special passion for educating and guiding the next generation. When deciding between doing what they love or leaving for a career that offers more support and a better lifestyle, instructors have to make a tough decision. Some of the biggest losses of teacher turnover are the negative impact on students' educational experience, disruptions in institutional advancement, and creation of an overall unhealthy school environment.

Teacher Turnover Rate and the Reduction in Classroom Experience

As teachers leave or retire, new teachers are most often the ones to fill their shoes. Exceedingly high turnover rates sometimes leave schools with no choice but to hire less experienced educators without much in-classroom training or specialized education or teachers with alternative certifications. Alternatively certified teachers, those with a teaching certificate or license in lieu of a traditional college degree, are statistically less prepared to take on a full classroom. Findings from the University of Massachusetts Global show that new educators are left without much on-the-job support when there are fewer experienced teachers around to guide recent hires through their first years, and that these new educators are 25% more likely to leave the profession, continuing the turnover cycle.

Higher teacher turnover rates have also been linked with lower test scores, which potentially impact the rest of a student's academic career, according to studies from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. Since teachers are often the first to identify signs of potential learning disorders, many students are also at risk of falling through the cracks with their challenges unnoticed.

Disruption in Institutional Advancement

When turnover affects students' academic success, it could reflect in state test scores, student attendance, or declining enrollment rates. Lower performing schools may face increased pressures from administrators, often contributing to teacher burnout. Districts often rely on school performance to gain enrollment, grants, budget increases, and other funding. Additionally, turnover is a major expense for struggling school districts, with costs ranging from $9,000 per teacher in rural and smaller suburban districts to more than $20K in urban areas, according to Learning Policy Institute data.

Teacher Shortages and Declines in School Morale

Fewer teachers at schools mean bigger class sizes, increasing pressures on remaining instructors, and leaving less time for one-on-one learning. With less focus on building student relationships, it's easier for students to fall behind. As teachers take on more responsibilities, schools are left without adequate staffing for non-classroom activities that build student morale, like sports, events, and clubs.

Though individual teachers are never to blame for making the right decision for their wellbeing, the effects of turnover compile, leaving schools with low morale. Early education encompasses many milestones in young students' lives, and schools struggling to stay afloat are far less prepared to embrace those moments with joy and excitement.

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Solutions to Teacher Shortages and High Turnover Rates

The facts seem grim, but, as your favorite teacher likely once quoted, "Where there's a will, there's a way." Turnover is not an impossible riddle; it's an equation that can be solved. Several changes, including ones made at the state, district, and school levels, can stop turnover cycles and create healthier teaching environments.

Many districts have responded to increased turnover with innovative programs like Grow Your Own teacher recruitment, which empowers community members, after-school program staff, and those seeking a career change to take steps to enter the teaching profession. The Grow Your Own program and others like it offer financial aid, professional coaching, and ongoing support to encourage degree completion and fill vacant positions in their community.

Schools can combat high teacher turnover rates with better compensation plans, comprehensive instructor support, targeted recruitment efforts, financial assistance for those seeking licensure, and an awareness of the issues at play,

Compensation and the High Teacher Turnover Rate

When researchers for Education Week asked what schools and districts could do to decrease the chance of teachers leaving their positions within the next two years, increasing salaries was the most common response. The majority of administrators agreed that better pay for teachers is key. That teachers deserve more compensation is a commonly held belief that many states and districts struggle with, yet neglect to implement even though reports from the Center for American Progress (CAP) show a positive correlation between bonuses or increased salaries and teacher retention.

Teacher salaries and the process for raising baseline pay varies across states. For example, Chalkbeat Tennessee reports that, as of 2021, teachers in Tennessee with a bachelor's degree and no prior teaching experience are entitled to an annual minimum of $38,000 at the start of the new school year, a $2,000 increase from the previous year. However, according to the National Education Association, Florida teachers aren't promised cost-of-living pay increases, and they have to negotiate yearly evaluation-based bonuses. Many instructors go years without any change in payment.

When accounting for increased costs of living, nationwide inflation, and the fact that 94% of teachers buy essential classroom supplies from their own salaries, according to CAP, the problem is clear.

Approaching the Problem

Districts have experimented with various solutions to the turnover problem, including increased pay for student performance and more frequent bonuses and raises. Some school districts have experimented with a controversial "efficiency wage theory" approach to teacher compensation which, according to EdSurge, measures effective teachers and pays higher wages for higher quality instruction. While this method might be a step in the right direction for some, it's difficult to define what makes a "good" teacher. A teacher might create a welcoming classroom environment with engaging classes, but depending on the subject matter and students' prior experience, standardized test scores might not reflect that teacher's effort. Other districts offer short-term raises and one-time bonuses to alleviate some of the financial burdens and increased stresses of teaching in a pandemic-era world, but it's far from a long-term solution.

Retirement and Health Insurance

Compensation goes beyond the paycheck, and benefits or retirement packages can also be a deal breaker for teachers on the fence. One in three teachers says retirement benefits play a big part in deciding to stay, according to Education Week. More than a million public school teachers aren't covered under Social Security, making retirement a daunting prospect. This is especially true if their employment packages lack the pension plans to make up for it. Additional benefits, like health insurance, are more vital than ever before with rising healthcare costs, especially in light of increased medical needs for pandemic-related illnesses. Without improved benefits, teachers are spending nearly $1,500 more annually on premiums, according to Education Week findings, compared to just a decade ago.

Support for Early Childhood Educators

The more supported teachers feel, the better they can perform their daily duties and are less likely to leave their position due to burnout or job-related stressors. To further support teachers, schools should focus on new hire preparation, ongoing support and mentorship for instructors, and relieving teachers from administrative burdens.

New-Hire Preparation

New teachers are often the best source of optimism and enthusiasm for new teaching methods, but they're also uniquely vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed. Some ways to help new teachers include:

  • Comprehensive onboarding and orientation programs
  • Regular check-ins from administrators
  • Events that let new teachers across the district connect and offer mutual support
  • Support and encouragement from existing teachers
  • Educating on the importance of saying "no" to avoid taking on too much too soon
  • Hands-on help with classroom management and student discipline

Support and Mentorship

According to the Learning Policy Institute, new teachers without adequate preparation are two to three times more likely to leave the teaching profession than those with active, comprehensive preparation programs. Mentorship programs are one way to offer teachers ongoing support, especially when mentors and mentees with common struggles, interests, or backgrounds are paired. Group studies from the Institute of Education Sciences show a 94% retention rate in new teachers with high-dosage mentorships, meaning 10 hours or more of mentorship per month, and a 97% retention rate for new teachers in moderate-dosage mentorship programs, which meet for 4 to 9 hours monthly. In comparison, teachers and mentors who participated in four or fewer hours of active mentorship each month showed only a 78% retention rate.

Administrative Relief

Some schools aren't fully aware of the administrative burden today's teachers face. In one survey, nearly half of all instructors told Education Week that reducing tasks like paperwork, meetings, and hall monitoring would offer immense relief and incentive to stay longer. When given the same survey about what changes they believe could best support their teachers, little more than one-quarter of administrators chose administrative relief.

Teacher Recruitment Efforts

One of the most direct ways to avoid teacher turnover is filling positions with those who are less likely to leave the profession. By targeting recruitment efforts, schools set themselves up for more longevity moving forward. Teachers might be less likely to vacate if they:

  • Earned a formal education degree
  • Have specialized skills, certificates, or concentrations
  • Are connected to the school for a specific reason, like being an alumni or living near the school

Some districts have turned to retired teachers as a way to circumnavigate the need for experienced, qualified professionals. By incentivizing retirees to return, schools forego the costs and time invested in hiring someone directly out of school or without prior training. This is an especially beneficial strategy for schools with extreme staff shortages facing a dwindling applicant pool.

Provide for Early Childhood Education Degrees and Teacher Certification

Earning teacher qualifications takes time, dedication, and financial investment. Districts can supplement targeted recruitment efforts by offering grants and funding for instructors to offset certification costs. They can also cover the cost of specific courses, like the CBEST, TExES, FTCE, and Praxis exams.

Some districts may consider partnering with schools and colleges to provide scholarships for teaching-related degrees, credentials, and professional development courses. Investing in new teachers at the start sets instructors up for a long, successful career while incentivizing continued learning and retainment for existing staff.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What degree is best for early childhood education?

    Early childhood educators hoping to receive higher compensation rates should pursue a four-year bachelor's degree. Some may continue on to postbaccalaureate studies.

  • What is a good turnover rate?

    The average turnover rate in the U.S. is currently 16%, which is historically high. The lower the turnover rate, the better.

  • Is 10% a high turnover rate?

    Yes and no. Compared to the national average, it's on the lower end. However, turnover rates are relative to the school in question. Anything higher or lower than normal is notable.

Expert Answers to Common Questions about early childhood education degree

  • How can student teachers get the most value of their teaching experiences in terms of determining which age groups, subjects, and types of school would be a fit for them?
  • How do you help your students best prepare to pass their teacher certification exams?
  • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?
  • Which classroom management strategies may be the most helpful for prospective and new teachers to learn more about?

You can read their biographies and answers below:

  • Expert contributor image

    Dr. Virginia Bowman Wilcox

    Associate Professor of Education

    Dr. Wilcox is an Associate Professor of Education. She was a classroom teacher for 13 years and has been the chair of the EDU department since 2011. She has a BA in Early Childhood Education from Wesleyan College, an MEd from Auburn University in Early Childhood Education, and a PhD in Integrating Math, Science, and Technology in Elementary Education from Auburn University. Her research interests revolve around how math anxiety impacts Elementary Education teachers, embedding play into content, STEM/STEAM initiatives, and ways to improve EPP outcomes and candidate quality.

    • How can student teachers get the most value of their teaching experiences in terms of determining which age groups, subjects, and types of school would be a fit for them?

      Don't go into the program with a 'closed mind' or already knowing which grade or subject you 'think' you want to teach. Take advantage of this time in which you get to try and experience new content, schools, students, and ages. Be open to the experiences and willing to visualize what this could look like in your own future endeavors.

    • How do you help your students best prepare to pass their teacher certification exams?

      I try to embed the content I know will be on the exam in engaging and meaningful ways in all of my classes. Whether we are studying heavy content such as the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators, or something more light hearted like the phases of the moon as required content for third graders, I approach it from a playful and engaging mindset.

    • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?

      I wish someone had emphasized to me cultural differences and how respecting and being aware of these could help me in developing a community of learners and building respect, rapport, and trust with my students.

    • Which classroom management strategies may be the most helpful for prospective and new teachers to learn more about?

      I love all of the Jim Fay, Love and Logic strategies but perhaps of all of them, my favorite is the super simple 'Brain Dead' strategy.

      Simply put, it eliminates arguing, positioning, attitudes, and so much more.

      The idea is, as a teacher you make a calm and simple request.

      "I need you to line up for lunch."

      No matter what argument or push back the student give in response, the brain dead technique teaches you to remain calm, never raise your voice, and simply repeat your request over and over and over again. For example:

      T-"I need you to line up for lunch."

      S-"But I'm not done with my picture yet."

      T-"I need you to line up for lunch."

      S-"I just need 5 more minutes."

      T-"I need you to line up for lunch."

      S-"I'm not even hungry!"

      T-"I need you to line up for lunch."

      S-"This is stupid, everybody else finished!"

      T-"I need you to line up for lunch."

      S-"You're the worst teacher I ever had!"

      T-"I need you to line up for lunch."

      Students will throw out 'ropes' hoping the teacher will pick up the end of a rope and a fun game of tug of war can begin.

      Going brain dead means you never pick up the rope!

  • Expert contributor image

    Leo Sandy

    Professor Emeritus

    Work Experience: School Psychologist (Lowell, MA, Londonderry, NH, Merrimack, NH, Hudson, NH, Litchfield, NH, Bedford, NH, Meredith, NH, & Westmoreland, NH) Professor: Rivier University, Plymouth State University, Keene State College Behavior Consultant: Keene YMCA Child Development ProgramAwards: 2011 Distinguished Graduate Teaching Award (PSU) 2003 Service Learning Professor of the Year (PSU) 2013 NH Peace Action Culture of Peace Award 2016 Excellence in Education (EDies) Award for Lifetime Achievement in School PsychologyScholarship: Presented at local, regional, national, and international conferences Published over 40 scholarly articles in state, national, and international magazines, newsletters, and peer-reviewed journals Accomplishments: Established the Center for Teaching Excellence (PSU) Developed the Peace and Social Justice minor (PSU) Developed the School Psychology Program (PSU) Developed the Peace and Justice Center (Rivier) Developed new courses (Rivier, PSU, KSC) Developed the Parent Involvement and Education Certificate Program (Rivier, PSU) Co-developed RISE for Peace

    • How can student teachers get the most value of their teaching experiences in terms of determining which age groups, subjects, and types of school would be a fit for them?

      by doing a lot of volunteering, substitute teaching, observing, and service learning

    • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?

      Do the unexpected

    • Which classroom management strategies may be the most helpful for prospective and new teachers to learn more about?

      Mistaken Goals, or mistaken ways to find belonging and significance by trying to get undue attention, negative power, revenge, or by giving up. When children feel unsafe (do not belong and are not significant) they adopt survival behavior and mistaken goals. When children feel safe (belonging and significance) they learn, develop into capable people and develop social interest.

  • Expert contributor image

    Trey Clements

    Assistant Professor

    I am a former third-grade teacher from the West Carrollton City School District in Dayton, Ohio. I received my Bachelor's Degree from Miami University (Oxford) in Early Childhood Education and am certified in PreK-3rd grade. I received my Master's Degree from the University of Dayton with a focus on Higher Education Administration. I am an Assistant Professor in the Education department at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio. I am the co-creator of the Trauma-Informed Care in Education Certificate and a co-facilitator of an Early Career Teachers Alumni group (Miami University), which focuses on the needs, struggles, and development of first-year to fifth-year teachers. I have also had the good fortune of being nominated for the Dayton Business Journal's 40 under 40 and co-creator and facilitator of diverse teacher pipelines within Montgomery County.

    • How can student teachers get the most value of their teaching experiences in terms of determining which age groups, subjects, and types of school would be a fit for them?

      In my opinion, I believe it is vital that students come into their education programs with open minds. Oftentimes students come in with an idea of what their preferred teaching position looks like and, in turn, fall subject to limiting their own experiences without evening being aware. Your education program's provided field experiences are a great opportunity to be exposed to many educational settings unbeknownst to you before making a final decision about your future teaching position.

    • How do you help your students best prepare to pass their teacher certification exams?

      My preferred approach is to prepare students by possessing the ability to apply thought and practices. Students will often learn concepts, theories, or practices but lack the ability to apply this knowledge in real time. These certification exams look at a student's competency in material and ability to apply them in various situations. So prepping fluid reasoning and understanding as opposed to crystallized intelligence gives students more flexibility in the knowledge of concepts, promoting the strength of the application.

    • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?

      I wish there were more of an emphasis on preservice teachers being intentional about building relationships with students. This skill set is often overlooked, but if and when acquired, the ability allows for several problematic aspects of the profession to become much more manageable.

    • Which classroom management strategies may be the most helpful for prospective and new teachers to learn more about?

      Trauma-informed practices and strategies are imperative, in my opinion. Not only do these approaches allow us to be empathetic to the students in our classrooms, but also allow us, as educators, to create the most productive learning environments possible while maintaining a safe and orderly classroom climate. Research also supports that the number of instances of trauma experienced by our nation's students is expected to rise at an exponential rate due to Covid19 pandemic.

  • Expert contributor image

    Trish C. Giacomazzi

    Assistant Professor

    Mrs. Giacomazzi obtained her B.A. degree in Elementary Ed. from Oral Roberts University and holds a Texas lifetime Elementary teaching certificate. She taught for ten years in Amarillo Texas as a fifth-grade teacher where she taught every content area before moving into administration. She completed her M.A. in Educational Leadership in 2007 receiving her principal's certification and became an Elementary assistant principal. She worked in administration as an assistant principal for ten years before becoming a principal where she was responsible for overseeing the professional development and growth of teachers with a wide range of teaching experiences. In 2018 she became an assistant professor at Wayland Baptist University where she currently teaches classes in classroom management, instructional teaching strategies, and principles and practices of education to future teaching candidates. She also acts as a University supervisor of clinical teachers. She is currently completing the last semester of her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Abilene Christian University.

    • How can student teachers get the most value of their teaching experiences in terms of determining which age groups, subjects, and types of school would be a fit for them?

      I would suggest teacher candidates ask their college professors to allow them to work with students from all grade levels in the school system as they gather field experience hours. I would also suggest that student work as a substitute at nearby school districts. This provides a real-world experience yet they are still able to have support from soon-to-be peers within the school district and from professors at their college.

    • How do you help your students best prepare to pass their teacher certification exams?

      To prepare for their certification exams I continually review educational terms, pedagogy, and instructional strategies for creating appropriate classroom management procedures in each of the college courses I teach. I also advise candidates to maintain a notebook from their freshman year that has lecture notes, PowerPoint, and other content-specific information, including the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Reviewing the TEKS they are expected to one day teach assists them in planning their study material for their content certification exam.

    • What is one piece of advice you wish you had when you were working to become a teacher?

      As a young teacher candidate, I wish I had been told to prepare myself emotionally for the toil teaching would take as I attempted to help many of my students who were emotionally and physically neglected and academically struggling students.

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