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Round and Round They Go: The Relationship Between Changing Grades and Schools and Teacher Quality, Retention, and Absence Rates

Sun, April 7, 3:40 to 5:10pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 200 Level, Room 202C


Teacher churn and turnover is disruptive for students (Atteberry, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2016; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013). While we know that professional and organizational context (e.g., Kraft, Marinell, & Shen-Wei Yee, 2016) and student characteristics (e.g., Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004) predict turnover, we know little about how teacher churn, or the process of switching grades, subjects, or schools, contributes to long-term teacher retention, quality or other behaviors. Existing studies on churn have focused exclusively on student outcomes (Atteberry et al., 2016) or have used a more limited definition of teacher churn (Blazar, 2015; Hanushek, Rivkin, & Schiman, 2016; Ost & Schiman, 2015). Examining the impacts of churn on early career teachers is particularly relevant, since these teachers are more likely to make within-district moves (Blazar, 2015; Ingersoll, 2001; Raue & Gray, 2015), often because of seniority provisions common in many labor contracts (Goldhaber, Strunk, Brown, & Knight, 2016; Grissom, Loeb, & Nakashima, 2013; Knight & Strunk, 2016; Strunk & Grissom, 2010).

We contribute to the existing literature by using administrative data from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to examine the effects of switching grades, subjects, and/or schools on the quality, behavior, and retention of early career teachers. The process of churn may lead to positive outcomes if the change is compatible with the teacher’s skills and knowledge (Chingos & West, 2011; Cohen-Vogel, 2011). Alternatively, changing positions or schools could lead to disruption, such as learning a new curriculum (Ost, 2014) or acclimating to a new set of norms (Ronfeldt et al., 2013), that could undermine teacher performance and satisfaction.

Using a panel of teacher administrative data that spans the 2007-2008 to 2017-2018 school years, we observe teacher demographic characteristics, experience, and the school, grade, and subject placements for all LAUSD teachers. We link this to data on teacher quality, including Value Added Measures (VAMs) and observation ratings, teacher absence rates, and teacher mobility. We use teacher and school fixed effects to control for school and teacher time-invariant characteristics that may bias our estimates. We attempt to account for time-varying sources of bias by controlling for school and classroom-level demographics, such as percent of students eligible for FRL, minority, SPED, and ELL.

Preliminary results suggest that within-district churn of all types is associated with decreases in teacher quality as measured both by VAMs and observation ratings. In addition, teachers who move between schools have marginally lower attendance rates in the year post-move, and are more likely to exit the district. Notably, these effects are larger for early career teachers than for their more senior peers, suggesting that novice teacher transitions, which are more likely to be involuntary, are more disruptive. As districts grapple with how to support early career teachers, these results may provide evidence supporting practical policies to minimize disruption and support teacher and student success.


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