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Is a good teacher hard to keep in Arizona?


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  • From the Data Desk of Dr. Anabel Aportela

Arizona Teachers Years Of Experience From The Data Desk Of Dr. Anabel Aportela

From the Data Desk of Dr. Anabel Aportela: Many of the conversations I participate in these days either begin or come around to the topic of teachers. Do we have enough of them? (The consensus is “no.”)

Are the shortages localized or statewide? Are the shortages getting worse or are things improving? How much do we need to raise teacher salaries to be competitive with other states? Other professions? Is compensation the only challenge to getting a quality teacher in front of every Arizona student?

Is a good teacher hard to keep in Arizona? Anabel_nocrop-200x300

Dr. Anabel Aportela

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions right now. A big part of the challenge is the general lack of good teacher data.

While the situation is improving, thanks to concerted efforts from a few organizations; we, as a state, have not been collecting and reporting quality, longitudinal data on teachers in a way that allows us to answer these questions.

The good news is that there’s now widespread recognition that we need this information and a focus on making it happen.

And yet, the policy questions remain a matter of pressing concern and we must do the best with what we have.

I have been and will continue to gather any available data on teachers, tie these data sets to each other and to other educational information we have, to inform the policy conversations.

The data below shows some of what I have found.

A quarter of the nearly 50,000 school district teachers[1] in Arizona have fewer than five years of experience and less than one-third have 15 or more years of experience[2].

Is a good teacher hard to keep in Arizona? AZ-Teacher-Years-Experience

Absent a high rate of student growth, 25 percent of new teachers, those with fewer than five years of experience, suggests high teacher turnover across the state. The practical costs to districts of such turnover can be significant (e.g., training and professional development) as is the potential instructional cost to students being taught by rookie teachers still honing their craft.

The percent of new teachers is greater in urban and suburban elementary school districts.

Is a good teacher hard to keep in Arizona? Teach-Year-Experience-2

Next to unified school districts, elementary districts that are part of a high school district have the largest number of teachers (12,622) and almost one-third of them are new. These districts are primarily urban (e.g., those feeding into Phoenix Union High School District) or suburban, rapidly growing areas (e.g., those feeding into Agua Fria Union High School District or Tolleson Union High School District). Elementary districts not in a high school district, with 452 teachers, are primarily small, rural school districts. These districts have seen enrollment declines in recent years, which may help to explain their relatively low percentage of new teachers.

Union high school districts, serving only grades 9-12, have a relatively low percent of new teachers, though that varies within this group of districts. West valley high school districts in Maricopa County have much higher rates of new teachers, consistent with the growth of student enrollment in that part of the county.

As a first look at teacher turnover, these data tell me that we do have a statewide challenge in teacher turnover, and the challenge is greater in urban and suburban elementary districts. Many of these districts are growing rapidly, necessitating additional teachers, and it appears they are hiring recent graduates. As we look to address these challenges, capturing longitudinal data will tell us whether this situation is getting worse or improving over time.

[1] Charter schools do not report employee data to ADE.

[2] Due to how data are reported by ADE, we do not know how many teachers are at 20 or 25 or 30 years.

Dr. Anabel Aportela is director of research for Arizona School Boards Association and Arizona Association of School Business Officials