Sheldon K. Johnson, Policy Intern at Think NC First

School administrators are constantly hiring new teachers, but that’s not a good thing. Between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession after five years,[1] and teacher turnover rates are 50 percent higher in high-poverty schools as compared to low-poverty schools.[2] University of Pennsylvania education and sociology Dr. Richard Ingersoll discussed this phenomenon and his research on teacher turnover and retention in a recent interview with NPR.

Ingersoll refers to the cycle of recruiting, hiring, training, and losing teachers as a “revolving door of turnover.” The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) estimates that the revolving door is spinning at an increasingly faster rate. Teacher attrition increased by 50 percent between 1993 and 2008.[3] This is a problem we should all care about because teacher turnover negatively affects student achievement. Ingersoll states that this increase in turnover also costs school districts and states upwards of $2.2 billion a year.[4] 

A recent report from McKinsey & Company suggests that the underutilization of student potential that academic achievement gaps reflect is costly. Communities with low-achieving schools produce clusters of Americans largely unable to participate in the economy due to the concentration of low skills, high unemployment, or high incarceration rates.[5]

Existing achievement gaps basically impose a permanent economic recession.

North Carolina cannot afford to hinder its growth by wasting money on increasing rates of teacher turnover or by stunting the economic potential of our children. The future of our state is at stake. 

In his report On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers, which used data from the 2007-2008 academic year, Ingersoll estimates that the cost of the 13.85 percent turnover rate here in North Carolina that year was between $29 million and $63 million.[6]  Ingersoll’s cost estimates are based on estimates derived from a study conducted by NCTAF in 2005.[7]  The teacher turnover rate has increased to 14.12 percent since then,[8] likely raising Ingersoll’s cost estimate even higher.

The Department of Public Instruction’s most recent Annual Report on Teachers Leaving the Profession reveals a troubling trend in departing teachers’ self-reported reasons for resigning. The number of teachers who left the teaching profession completely, because they were dissatisfied or wanted a career change, increased by 113 percent in the past year. Additionally, 268 more teachers resigned to go teach in other states during the 2013-2014 academic year compared to 2012-2013.

Wake County Schools spokesman Tim Simmons argues that the state report paints a rosier picture than the reality, because it only covers departures through March of 2014, and ignores the teachers who have left since then. He expects the turnover rate to increase when the 2014-2015 report is released.[9]

Ingersoll believes that most states and districts are not aware of how much increasing rates of teacher turnover are costing them. He suggests that schools address the problem of high teacher turnover by adopting initiatives to support new teachers. Induction programs, where beginning teachers are paired with veteran teacher mentors, have showed positive results in both teacher retention and student achievement.

He also suggests that schools focus on retaining teachers by allowing them input in key decisions and supporting them with student behavior issues. These reforms are important, according to Ingersoll, because teacher turnover is driven primarily by school conditions.

Unfortunately, North Carolina was recently ranked as the worst state in the country for teachers. It is imperative that we adopt policies to improve conditions for both new and veteran teachers. We’re risking North Carolina’s future, and losing a lot of money, by maintaining the status quo.


[1] Gary Barnes, Edward Crowe, and Benjamin Schaefer. (2007). “The Cost of Teacher Turnover in Five School Districts: A Pilot Study.” Available at:

[2] Matthew Ronfeldt et al. (June 2011). “How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement.” Available at:

[3] Cynthia Kopkowski. (April 2008). “Why They Leave.” Available at:

[4] Owen Phillips. (March 2015). “Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year.” Available at:

[5] McKinsey & Company Social Sector Office. (April 2009). “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.” Available at:

[6] Department of Public Instruction Center for Recruitment and Retention. (November 2008). “Annual Report on the Reasons Teachers Leave.” Available at:

[7]The lower cost estimate‒$4,365 per teacher‒ was gathered from a not-poor, small, rural school district. The higher cost estimate‒$9,501 per teacher‒was gathered from a low-income, large, urban school district. Alliance For Excellent Education. (July 2014). “On The Path To Equity: Improving The Effectiveness Of Beginning Teachers.” Available at:

[8] Department of Public Instruction Educator Effectiveness Division. (November 2014). “Annual Report on Teachers Leaving the Profession.” Available at:

[9] Lynn Bonner and T. Keung Hui. (October 2015). “NC Teacher Turnover Rate Dips Slightly, Though More Leave For Out-of-State Jobs.” Available at: