Teacher Pensions Blog

Teacher attrition has increased over the past couple of decades, but attrition is not necessarily bad if the teachers who leave weren't performing well. What’s most problematic is the loss of an effective teacher.

Tennessee recently released a report that examines teacher retention in relation to effectiveness. The report tracked teacher retention patterns alongside effectiveness levels from 2011-13, when the state first implemented its multiple measures evaluation system, the Tennessee Evaluator Acceleration Model (TEAM). Overall, teachers rated as highly effective tended to have slightly higher retention rates. Early career teachers with one to three years of experiences tended to have lower retention rates than teachers with more experience, including highly effective early career teachers.

The chart below shows the percentage of teachers who remained in the same school, the same district, or a different Tennessee district. The bars on the left show the retention rates of all highly effective teachers. The bars on the right show the retention rates of highly effective teachers who had only one to three years of teaching experience. Level 4 and 5 represent highly effective teacher ratings.

Retention Rates by Effectiveness

Source: Tennessee Department of Education, 2014. 

Some Tennessee districts are much better at retaining highly effective teachers than others. The chart below shows the difference in district retention rates for districts who were able to retain highly effective teachers at a higher rate (teachers with a level 4 or 5 rating) and districts who retained lower performing teachers (teachers with a level 1, 2, or 3 rating) at a higher rate.

District Retention Rate Differences by Effectiveness

Source: Tennessee Department of Education, 2014. 

What does this mean for school districts and policymakers? Districts need to consider policies that better retain early career teachers who have a higher probability of leaving, especially early career teachers who are already highly effective.

Policymakers can use this data to rethink teacher retention and quality in relation to the state’s pension system. Pensions have acted as a strong incentive for late career teachers nearing the prescribed retirement age to stay in the classroom, “pulling” teachers to stay in the system. But pensions do little to incentivize early career teachers to continue teaching, and instead punish teachers with fewer years of experience. What’s more, there is no evidence that teacher pensions raise teacher quality overall. Besides, it’s impossible for state-level pension plan to act as a recruitment or retention incentive for individual schools or districts. When it comes to teacher retention and quality, districts need to find local solutions.