If you've heard about the teacher shortage crisis, you may have thought it's simply that too few people are going into the profession. But the truth is more complicated.

In fact, many educators change schools often and even leave teaching altogether early on in their career. Both issues are big contributors to the ongoing problem of too few teachers in California for students from preschool through high school.

"Teaching is one of the most complex professions because it's not just about content knowledge and knowing how to teach," says Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, Ph.D., Assistant Vice Chancellor, Teacher Education & Public School Programs.

"It's collaborating with adults, it's understanding children's social and emotional development, it's working with families, it's working with leadership, it's working with the community," she explains. "The teacher is at the center of this ecosystem and she has to ensure all students learn, all students succeed."

Teaching is one of the most complex professions because it’s not just about content knowledge and knowing how to teach.”

– Dr. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Teacher Education & Public School Programs

The California State University prepares more of California's P-12 teachers than all other California institutions combined — and nearly 8 percent of the nation's teachers — making the challenge of reducing teacher turnover and improving retention directly relevant to the CSU.

So the findings in a recent report, "Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It," didn't come as a surprise to Grenot-Scheyer or CSU teacher-preparation faculty. In fact, the report validates the CSU's ongoing efforts to prepare teachers for the day-to-day realities of their profession to ensure both they and their students succeed.

The State of Teacher Retention

The report, which was released by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) in August, found that:

  • The cost of teacher turnover is high. About 90 percent of the nationwide annual demand for teachers is created when teachers leave the profession, with two-thirds of teachers leaving for reasons other than retirement. Teacher movement out of schools costs more than $20,000 to replace each teacher who leaves an urban school district. Most important, high turnover rates reduce achievement for students whose classrooms are affected.
  • Teacher turnover rates vary across the U.S. Turnover rates are lowest in the Northeast, where states tend to offer higher pay, support smaller class sizes, and make greater investments in education. Rates are highest in the South — nearly 17%, the report found compared to about 12% in California.
  • Teachers are most likely to leave schools that serve low-income and underserved students. Turnover rates are 70 percent higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color and 50 percent higher for teachers in Title I schools, where there are more low-income students.
  • Teachers leave mostly for the same reasons (and that typically doesn't include the size of their paycheck). Dissatisfaction with testing and accountability pressures, lack of administrative support, lack of opportunities for advancement and dissatisfaction with working conditions are among the most common reasons cites, the report found.

Stemming the Educator Exodus

Among other recommendations, the LPI report advises that federal, state, and district policymakers improve specific factors associated with turnover, including compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions. Dr. Grenot-Scheyer agrees, noting that the following factors often determine whether or not a teacher stays at a school or in the teaching profession at all:

  • adequate time for planning and collaboration with others
  • reasonable class size
  • resources, including "high-quality, thoughtful professional development and support to help teachers continue to learn and grow so they can meet the needs of all students" 
  • stable, consistent leadership that supports professional development

"When those factors are in place, teacher retention is high, attrition is low, and, of course, students benefit," she notes.

How the CSU Sustains Excellent Educators

The problem of teacher attrition has been on the CSU's radar for a long time. A decade ago, the CSU released "A Possible Dream: Retaining California's Teachers So All Students Learn," by Ken Futernick, Ph.D., then the director of K-12 studies at the Center for Teacher Quality.

A number of the new LPI report's recommendations for improving teacher retention echo efforts already in place across CSU campuses, including:

  • teacher residency programs, such as RISE at CSU Chico, a 12- to 18-month master's degree program
  • high-quality mentoring and induction into the classroom experience
  • school leadership development programs, such as a doctoral degree in educational leadership, a master's degree in educational administration and the Administrative Services Credential, all offered at CSU.

Education students at the CSU have a clinical (classroom) experience starting in their first year, with subsequent experiences building upon one another and culminating in a final student-teaching experience of one or two semesters.

Every teacher preparation program on a CSU campus partners with local school districts to develop and support clinical field sites for teacher candidates. Faculty work with school district staff to ensure that teacher candidates have diverse, high-quality field experiences from their first observation through to their last student teaching experience before graduating.

"Our student teachers are implementing the district curriculum in schools, where they are having to use the knowledge and skills they have developed in their teacher preparation programs with real students and the constraints of classrooms," says Grenot-Scheyer.

Once a student teacher graduates and is hired by a school district, their professional development continues. CSU and district faculty collaborate to provide mentorship and further learning.

Many students go on to do graduate-level work and earn their master's in curriculum instruction, educational technology, counseling, school psychology and other fields, says Grenot-Scheyer: "We are attracting back our graduates into these graduate programs for them to develop even more skills to be more effective within whatever position they happen to take."

Agents of Change for California's Communities

The work teacher candidates do at school sites is crucial to helping to ensure retention after graduation, especially in the first years of their career, when they're the most vulnerable. "When teachers tend to leave is early on, when they have not yet mastered their craft," Grenot-Scheyer explains. "Teaching is very much a craft that you get better at with support and time and resources, so having a strong induction program is critical."

To that end, the CSU has partnered with a school district and a community college to create "Grow Your Own" pipeline programs. These identify students as early as middle school and high school who demonstrate an interest in becoming a teacher or want to make a difference in their community.

The students are first recruited through a "Future Teachers Club" program at their school and eventually apply to a CSU campus or go to a community college for two years and then transfer directly into a CSU teacher preparation program. The graduates then go back to their community to teach or become a leader in education.

These efforts, says Grenot-Scheyer, organically increase not just recruitment but retention of teachers who are naturally motivated by a desire to contribute to the place where they live.

An example is the "Teacher TRAC" program at Cerritos Community College, a decade-long partnership with CSU Long Beach that has resulted in hundreds of teachers coming through the pipeline and going back to their communities to teach. "People come into this profession because they want to make a difference for their students, or they love their content and want to share their passion for, say, math and science," she continues.

"Some of our graduates have become very successful change agents in the districts in which they grew up. And that's how it should be."