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State study shows healthy teacher retention

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

About a third of new teachers who leave public schools in Georgia, return within two years, according to a state study on teacher retention.

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), on Thursday, released the results of a study which analyzed the retention and attrition trends of Georgia's public school teachers.

The study revealed that the state's public schools retain about 75 percent of their new teachers after five years, and more than half of their new teachers beyond 10 years.

"Georgia retains teachers at a very high rate," said Ben Scafidi, who was commissioned by GOSA in late 2008, to conduct the study.

Scafidi, an associate professor of Economics at Georgia College and State University, analyzed Georgia Department of Education data on 13,996 new teachers entering the schools between 1998 and 2001, and followed them through 2009.

Scafidi, who is also the chairman of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, said he has done research previously regarding teacher retention in public education. He said he discovered in the latest study that teacher retention was better than previously thought in Georgia.

The economics professor said "traditional" accounts of teacher attrition often labeled teachers who teach one year but not the next, as having left public schools. He said some teachers, however, do not leave public schools, they change positions within public school systems, and others return later to teach in public schools.

Scafidi reported back to GOSA that teacher retention was 50 percent among teachers nine years after they begin teaching in public schools. That percentage, he noted, is based on "traditional" methods of defining teacher attrition. He said the retention rate is roughly 63 percent for teachers, when counting those teachers who leave public schools and return later to continue their careers in public schools.

Georgia's public school retention rate is better than most industries, according to Scafidi, who cited the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey database.

"In June 2010, for all occupations in the United States that are non-farm occupations, the monthly separation rate was 3.4 percent. So, the average organization loses 3.4 percent per month [in attrition]," he said. "Public education in Georgia is less than 0.5 percent per month. So, public education has a much more stable work force than the private sector, and other government sectors. That's great for public education."

GOSA Deputy Director Eric Wearne said he believes the study's findings will help make Georgia's public school systems more appealing to new school teachers.

"This analysis, which used actual Georgia employment data, suggests that Georgia teachers are staying in our schools for longer and in greater numbers than many people commonly assume," said Wearne. "Also, many teachers are returning to our schools after brief stints away, possibly at home with small children or in graduate school. Both of these results indicate that Georgia is an attractive place to work in education."

Samantha Craig expects to have a long career in public schools. In August, the 24-year-old began teaching art for Clayton County Public Schools, at Edwin S. Kemp Primary School in Hampton.

The new teacher believes new teachers leave public school systems for a variety of personal reasons. "It depends on the person and what that person's goals are, professionally," said Craig. "I think, sometimes, people get into the profession because they think it's easy.

"I don't think teaching is for everyone," she continued. "I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I think it's a rewarding career. I like to see the children grow and progress ... If you want to be a teacher, you're going to be here and do what you have to do."

The Teacher Retention Report can be found in its entirety on GOSA's web site, at www.gaosa.org.