Teachers leaving their jobs at an accelerating rate in Pennsylvania, new study finds

Teachers are leaving their jobs at an accelerating rate in Pennsylvania, amid fears of a nationwide exodus of burned-out teachers.

class room at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne

Shown is a class room at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Teachers are leaving their jobs at an accelerating rate in Pennsylvania, according to a new analysis by Penn State's Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis that shows that teacher attrition in Pennsylvania doubled in the 2022-23 school year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Teachers are leaving their jobs at an accelerating rate in Pennsylvania, amid fears of a nationwide exodus of burned-out teachers and a collapse in enrollment in recruitment programs that is making teachers increasingly difficult to replace.

A new analysis by Penn State’s Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis shows that the rate of teacher attrition in Pennsylvania grew faster in the 2022-23 school year and hit its highest point in a decade of tracking.

That reflects a pattern that is starting to emerge in other states and as schools across the country struggle to find teachers.

Ed Fuller, the Penn State education professor who conducted the analysis, said he has seen data from 12 states with similar increases in this school year.

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The past two years, schools saw relatively modest changes in attrition even as teachers reported more dissatisfaction with the job amid the travails of the COVID-19 pandemic, growing workloads, shrinking autonomy and increasingly hostile school environments.

But now, labor markets are tight and it’s much easier for teachers to find a job near where they live, Fuller said.

Fuller’s analysis shows that Pennsylvania saw a 1.5 percentage point increase in teacher attrition this year, the largest increase in the past decade.

All told, the attrition rate was 7.7% in 2022-23, up from 6.2% in 2021-22 and 5.4% in 2020-21. That comes out to nearly 9,600 leaving their jobs in 2022-23, nearly doubling the number of newly certified teachers in Pennsylvania in 2022.

The previous high was 7.5% in 2014.

The figures include terminations, resignations and retirements. It does not track whether a teacher left for a teaching job in another state or took a non-teaching job in the education profession, for instance as an administrator.

Amid lackluster enrollments in colleges and programs that train teachers, the drop-off in teacher certifications is particularly steep in Pennsylvania, tumbling from 15,000 in 2011 to under 6,000 in 2021.

Fuller’s analysis found a number of long-term trends that he said are similar across states: teachers showing the highest rate of leaving the profession are Black and Hispanic.

In those cases, male teachers left at a higher rate than their female counterparts.

Attrition rates were also higher at charter and cyber-charter schools and poorer public schools. Those schools tend to suffer higher turnover, pay less and hire newer teachers, including many teachers of color.

In addition, middle school teachers left at a higher rate than teachers at other levels, Fuller found.

By county, Philadelphia had, by far, the highest attrition rate, at 16.4%. That is due primarily to high attrition rates of charter schools in the city, Fuller said.

In addition to the time and effort required to find a replacement, research has shown that teacher turnover has a negative effect on student outcomes, school climate and teacher quality, Fuller said.

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Usually a less experienced teacher is hired as a replacement, Fuller said.

At the moment, state lawmakers and Gov. Josh Shapiro are looking at ways to address the teacher shortage, including stipends for student teachers and tax credits for newly certified teachers.

In the Upper Darby School District, Superintendent Daniel McGarry wants to start a “grow your own” program to start paying 24 high school graduates or community members to work as apprentices in the schools while the district pays for their education to get certified.

Sherri Smith, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, said attrition comes up in every conversation as she travels the state to talk with school officials.

“I don’t go into a meeting where we don’t talk about educator workforce and what we’re facing,” she said.

Tomas Hanna, an associate superintendent for the Philadelphia School District, told a news conference this month that the district that once had 1,200 student teachers now is down to 362.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said teachers are leaving because they feel overwhelmed and not supported.

Paying teachers more and boosting school funding is vital, he said.

When schools can’t find fully certified teachers, they hire teachers who aren’t fully credentialed. Those teachers have limited skills, and it’s tougher for them, resulting in constant turnover, Jordan said.

“It becomes a real cycle of putting in teacher after teacher with an emergency certification,” Jordan said. “The teachers become frustrated and they leave because they’re not getting support they need and they’re not making a lot of money, so they move on. You have a revolving door.”

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