Recently released federal data suggests that far fewer new teachers are leaving the profession than originally thought.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 10% of teachers who began their careers in 2007-08 left the profession after their first year. However, after those teachers had left and attrition began to level off, 83% of teachers were still teaching 5 years later.
That data, which suggests that only 17% of new teachers are leaving their positions within the first five years, directly opposes the previously considered data from Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading scholar on the nation's teacher workforce, which said that between 40 and 50% were leaving within the first five years.
However, Ingersoll himself has said that his data was a "crude approximation," adding that no one at the time had tracked a large number of teachers to see how long they were staying in the field.
The new data changes that, as federal officials tracked a representative grouping of teachers who began their careers in the 2007-08 school year in an effort to find out how many of them stayed in the field five years later, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
"I don't think it's that the earlier numbers that people like myself calculated were wrong," Ingersoll said, explaining that his estimate eventually was buttressed by additional data that put new-teacher attrition in the same ballpark. "The hope is that there's been an improvement and that teacher attrition has gone down."
Ingersoll continued to say that it was difficult to compare the two studies, as they did not focus on exactly the same subject. He said that while his estimation looked at both public and private school teachers, the new data only included public school teachers. In addition, he looked at attrition after the fifth year of teaching, while the new data considered it after the fourth year.
He went on to say that different definitions of attrition could warrant different results, and that 17% could be too low. He believes the true result could be higher than 20%.
He did admit the new numbers, either way they are calculated, are significantly lower than they had been in the past, although he believes it is too soon to know why.
While those who support the Obama administration's education policies may say that teacher conditions are improving, others could potentially argue that the previous higher estimation could have played a role. The recession may have also had something to do with it, as the new study began to track teachers at the same time, so many could have simply felt they needed to stay in their job.
"You can get different spins on this report," Ingersoll said. "I certainly would hope that the reason the rates were lower is because so many of these reforms have hit pay dirt and we're improving things. But the truth is, we do not know that."