Research Alliance Study Shows NYC Middle Schools Face High Teacher Turnover

In recent years, education researchers have focused on the middle school grades as a critical period for children, given the influence of middle school on high-school performance. A new report by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools examines one aspect of middle school performance, teacher turnover, and finds a high proportion of new-to-school teachers who leave within three years. This report is part of a larger mixed-methods study of teacher turnover that includes researchers at the Research Alliance, New York University, Columbia Teachers College, and Baruch College.

The study reveals that more than half (55 percent) of the teachers who entered New York City middle schools between 2002 and 2009 left these schools within three years. Further, nearly 60 percent of departing middle school teachers left the NYC public school system altogether and another 23 percent either moved to schools that did not include the middle grades (Grades 6-8) or took on non-teaching positions.

These findings suggest an exodus of newly-arrived teachers from middle schools, and they raise questions for future research about the causes, consequences, and implications of teacher turnover. The remaining two components of the Research Alliance’s larger study – a survey and a case study analysis – will investigate these and other questions.

“Our analyses reveal that middle school teachers do not remain in their schools for very long. When they do transfer to other NYC public schools, they often end up in schools that do not include the middle grades,” explained William Marinell, (pictured left) research associate at the Research Alliance and the report’s author. “This instability may make it challenging for middle schools to provide the kind of personalized learning environment that researchers believe is critical for supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development during the middle grades.”

“While the descriptive nature of this study does not support causal inferences, we do find that certain malleable characteristics of schools – such as schools’ size and learning environment – are associated with turnover,” Marinell continued. “This suggests that policy makers and practitioners may be able to influence turnover. We need more information about the causes and consequences of turnover before offering any firm policy suggestions, but this study helps us identify important questions to address moving forward.”

According to James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance, “the Teacher Turnover project is a truly collaborative effort between institutions in New York City that is the hallmark of the Research Alliance’s approach to building evidence about education issues in New York City. We look forward to the presenting the results from our colleagues at TC and Baruch.”