By now it should be no secret how valuable great teachers are. But what does it actually cost to lose our teachers when they leave the profession?

The Alliance for Excellent Education just released a report that aims to answer that question by the numbers.

The Alliance estimates that teacher attrition in the United States costs $2.2 billion per year, including $17-37 million in South Carolina. But the numbers only tell part of the story. This excerpt from their press release was particularly poignant:

“Teacher attrition hits states and school districts in the wallet, but students and teachers pay the real price,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “The monetary cost of teacher attrition pales in comparison to the loss of human potential associated with hard-to-staff schools that disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color. In these schools, poor learning climates and low achievement often result in students—and teachers—leaving in droves.

“The report cites the well-established principle that teaching quality is the most powerful school-based factor in student learning—one that outweighs students’ social and economic background in accounting for differences in student learning. It also notes that chronic gaps remain in disadvantaged students’ access to effective teaching—a scenario that unmistakably harms students, but also has an impact on teachers.”

Fortunately, the report also offers a few suggestions that would help solve the problem. One of those is a policy we’ve supported from day one: regular teacher evaluations using multiple measures. Giving teachers meaningful feedback through regular and rigorous evaluations will not only help teachers improve their craft, but also let them know that we respect them as professionals.

Obviously there’s a lot more that needs to be done, including improving teacher pay and prioritizing the most effective teachers during layoffs. But faithfully implementing the teacher evaluation system approved by our State Board of Education last month is a major step in the right direction. It will make a big impact as we try to slow the flow of teachers leaving the workforce and reign in the economic and social costs our state suffers by losing them.


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