Wisconsin teacher turnover rises sharply, new report finds
Rates are highest among teachers of color, in districts with more low-income students and students of color
Wisconsin’s teacher turnover rates — which includes the number of teachers moving to different school districts and leaving the state’s public school classrooms altogether — surged in the 2022-23 school year, according to a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report. The rates of turnover were higher among teachers of color and in school districts serving vulnerable student populations.
The rates have been inching up since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising from 10.5% in the 2020-2021 school year to 12.4% in the 2021-22 school year. The teacher turnover rose to 15.8% in the 2022-23 school year. The 2023 rate includes the highest level on record of teachers moving between districts and the second highest number of teachers leaving Wisconsin public schools for another profession.
The report examined data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction of about 116,000 teachers at roughly 450 school districts and other K-12 entities over a 15-year period. The average turnover rate per year from 2009 to 2023 was 11.5%.
The report says that while it’s uncertain whether the rate will decrease in future years or continue at the heightened level, the high rate in 2023 raises questions about schools’ ability to help students recover from pandemic learning loss.
“This effect is especially concerning given our findings that turnover is highest in precisely those schools where students face the biggest challenges and might benefit the most from a stable environment in which to learn,” the report states. “As students recover from the worst of pandemic disruption, that stability may be even more important.”
The report cites a number of possible factors leading to increased turnover, including high demand for workers in other occupations caused by low unemployment, relatively high retirement rates, the impacts of high inflation and accumulated stress due to health, political and logistical burdens associated with teaching during the pandemic.
The report found that turnover rates were driven in large part by teachers leaving Wisconsin public schools altogether rather than moving from one district to another. It says possible explanations for that pattern include Baby Boomer retirements and younger generations’ greater tendency to shift jobs.
Teachers of color were the most affected by turnover, according to the report. It says the trend could reflect the fact that teachers of color are concentrated in districts with high turnover rates for teachers of all races.
The turnover rate for white teachers, who make up the majority of the state’s teacher workforce, averaged 11.28% over the 15 years, slightly below the average for all teachers. Black teachers had an average turnover rate of 17.64% over the same period, and their turnover rate in 2023 hit 23.4%.
“No other racial or ethnic group saw such high turnover rates for so many years,” the report states.
Other non-white teachers have also had higher turnover rates than average, according to the report.
From 2009 to 2023, an average of 14.05% American Indian/Alaska Native teachers, 14.24% of Hispanic teachers, 12.66% of Asian teachers, and 12.37% of multiracial teachers left their jobs each year.
“Turnover among teachers of color is of particular concern due to the documented benefits for all students and especially for students of color from the presence of these educators, including gains in academic achievement, more access to challenging coursework, higher student expectations, and favorable assessment of student work,” the report states.
While all Wisconsin school districts experienced at least a 10% average turnover rate during the study time period, according to the report, the report also finds that teachers are more likely to leave districts with higher shares of students of color and a higher proportion of low-income households.
Between 2009 and 2023, school districts serving a majority of students of color had an average turnover rate of 13.1%, and school districts serving a majority of students from low-income households had an average turnover rate of 13.0%. The two groups of school districts overlap: 17 of Wisconsin’s 19 school districts where students of color are in the majority are also districts with a majority of students are economically disadvantaged.
In comparison, school districts with majority white student populations had an average turnover rate of 11.0%, and those with fewer than 25% students coming from low-income households had an average turnover rate of 10.1% — both rates lower than the state average.
The report also found that the average turnover rate for Milwaukee Public Schools — Wisconsin’s largest school district — was 15.4%, significantly higher than the state average.
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