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Teacher Turnover Rates Are Higher In Utah But The Cause Remains Unclear

Lee Hale

Recent data released by the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah shows that nearly half of new teachers in the state leave the profession within the first five years. That puts Utah’s overall turnover rate above the national average.

About 8 percent of all teachers leave the profession nationwide. In Utah that number is 12 percent. And it’s most apparent with beginning teachers. Allison Nicholson, one of the researchers who put the study together, says one thing in particular jumped out at her.

“93 percent were not long in the Utah public education system and only 7 percent moved into administration or other specialist roles," says Nicholson.

So, the vast majority are not moving into administration or district jobs. They’re leaving education altogether. And while these numbers paint a vivid picture, the causes for the turnover are still unclear.

“None of our state data tells us why teachers leave," Nicholson says. "So we looked to national data to try to understand that more.”

National surveys cite personal life factors, salary and job benefits as reasons for leaving. But there isn’t much detail beyond that. Although in Utah we do know that teachers at charter schools and high poverty, Title 1 schools are more likely to leave.

Like Granger Elementary, a Title 1 school in West Valley City, where over half of the student body are English language learners. Amber Clayton, principal at Granger, sees close to 20 percent of her teachers replaced every summer. Which is an obvious challenge.

“It means that we’re constantly in training mode," says Clayton.

Clayton says the majority of her new hires are brand new teachers. They’re often energetic but they require a lot of guidance.

“What I find is that we spend a lot of time giving them great skills and at about that point their will to do it in this setting kind of burns out," says Clayton.

They often leave for less demanding teaching settings.

The next step for the policy center is to create a Utah-specific survey to better determine why teacher leave. Which could help principals like Clayton get a better handle on what can be done to hang on to them.

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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