The West Bend Daily News has an interesting, if poorly written, story about teacher turnover in the West Bend School District. Here’s the background…
There are several people in the community who are not happy with the current direction of the school district or the management style of the superintendent. Their dissatisfaction is particularly relevant at this time because there is a school board election on April 5th in which the chairman of the school board, Randy Marquardt, is running for reelection. He is, rightly, the standard bearer for the current policies and direction of the district. Furthermore, the current superintendent, Ted Neitzke, has already announced his resignation effective at the end of the school year. The school board, and whoever the two candidates are who are elected to it in April, will choose the next superintendent.
One of the metrics that the critics of the current superintendent cite as problematic is teacher turnover. Their contention is that voluntary teacher turnover is too high and that it is a reflection of poor management practices and failed board policies. Well, I love data, so let’s take a look to see if it’s a problem or not.
According to the story, here is what the voluntary turnover rate in the district looks like compared to surrounding districts:
The voluntary teacher turnover rate in the West Bend School District is a little below 7% and has been increasing since Act 10 took effect – just like every other district. And right now, turnover in the district is comparable to low compared with the other sample districts. Granted, it is a small sample size.
The other thing that jumps out from the date is the spike in the 2010-2011 school year in the West Bend School District that doesn’t appear in the other districts. That was the year that Act 10 passed. I remember there being a spike in teachers quitting in fear of Act 10, but it seems odd that it was higher in West Bend than elsewhere. Then again, West Bend had, and has, a very active teachers union that is rabidly liberal. Perhaps those other districts do not. In any case, I would point out that that occurred under the previous superintendent, and Marquardt was first elected in the Spring of 2010. If teacher turnover is an issue, it seems to have been a bigger issue prior to the current leadership.
In any case, we are still faced with deciding whether or not teacher turnover is an issue. I would ask three questions. First, is 7% turnover abnormal?
Well, compared to the other school districts cited in the story, apparently not. West Bend appears to be in the middle of the pack. There doesn’t seem to be anything abnormal about West Bend’s turnover rate at all. And if you compare it to national statistics, 7% is downright low. In this study about the 2011-2012 school year, it found the national voluntary turnover rate of about 11%.
The second question is, why has the voluntary turnover rate been rising? That is rather simple. It is intentional. One of the objectives of Act 10 was to give school districts more latitude in managing personnel and implement innovations. Act 10 helped the West Bend School District implement things like their on site clinic, online education, and charter school. As the rate of change increases, it tends to drive turnover up in any organization.
Also, school districts were allowed to decouple compensation from length of service and be more creative in offering incentives for teachers. This opened the door to school districts being able to be more aggressive in recruiting teachers from elsewhere. It also allowed teachers to consider moving to other districts without being penalized by coming in on the low end of the tenure scale. In other words, Act 10 intentionally opened up a more competitive labor market for teachers. By its very nature, shifting a labor market from a very closed one to one that is slightly more free will result in more movement of teachers between districts.
The third question is, is a 7% voluntary turnover rate a bad thing? Remembering that the 7% also includes retirements, I do not think 7% is bad at all. In fact, it is healthy. As with most things in life, there needs to be a balance with employee turnover. If turnover is too high, it creates organizational stress, impedes performance as new employees are getting up to speed, and drives up the costs due to training and inefficiency. If employee turnover is too low, it stifles innovation, breeds complacency, and drives up the overall labor costs since more tenured employees tend to earn more compensation.
You also have to take into account the shifting sentiments of the labor force. The Millennial generation is much less loyal to employers than previous generations. They have grown up in a very agile and mobile labor market. Millennials who are teachers aren’t much different. And in a labor market that has been freed a bit by Act 10, they have the opportunity to be more mobile if they choose. School districts are not an island and can’t escape the wider demographic forces in the labor market.
So we are looking for a healthy range of turnover. Without knowing how much of the 7% is due to retirements, I would say that, if anything, it seems too low, but that is just my gut talking. Let’s face it, a 3% turnover rate is not a healthy turnover rate. It is a stagnant organization. And a 20% turnover rate, which is not uncommon in many other professional service industries, is probably too high for schools whose teachers need a few years to develop their classrooms.
I would not become too concerned about the turnover rate until it gets into the double-digits. At 7%, the West Bend School District’s turnover rate certainly does not indicate a crisis.