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Kentucky teacher turnover reaches new heights

 Several adults crowd around a white board with markers.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
JCPS teachers participated in a training on the new math curriculum at Atherton High Schools on July 18, 2023.

Almost a quarter of Kentucky teachers left the classroom last school year, according to data from the Kentucky Department of Education.

Turnover data shows nearly one in four Kentucky teachers switched roles or left the profession entirely in the 2022-2023 school year. That’s up from a turnover rate of 18% in the 2018-2019 school year.

Byron Darnall, an associate commissioner with KDE, called the increase “startling.”

“I think it's just telling us that educators are sacrificing a lot to remain in education, and therefore, we see some that feel like the sacrifice is not no longer worth it,” he said.

The increase in turnover mirrors national trends.

KDE measures turnover as the percentage of teachers who did not return to the same position as the year prior or who left midyear. That means turnover data includes teachers who have transferred within the district, between districts or who were promoted to a position in administration.

Darnall said while KDE’s rate may not reflect a “direct headcount,” it still indicates a level of “churn” in schools.

“It does just simply at a base level mean that a classroom is experiencing turnover. And so there is a change being inserted in the system with an individual leaving a role,” he said.

Teachers are more likely to leave these days, Darnall said, due to a variety of factors including the heavy administrative burden, difficult student behavior, public scrutiny on the profession and low pay compared to other jobs that require a similar level of education.

Darnall said a fully funded mentorship program for new teachers could make a difference. Starting in 1985, state lawmakers funded the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, known as KTIP, which required first-year teachers to undergo mentorship and training by an experienced educator to become fully licensed.

Some districts, like Jefferson County Public Schools, use local tax revenues to fund mentorship programs. But not all school systems are able to do so without state support, which ended in 2018.

“Most districts are doing the very best they can,” Darnall said. “But it would just be reassuring to have something that is stable financially and focused systemically across the state.”

JCPS looks to data analytics to counter turnover

Though Jefferson County Public Schools saw a spike in teacher turnover last year that mirrored the statewide trend, preliminary data shows some recent improvement in the state’s largest district.

According to JCPS, the current teacher retention rate is 94.9%, a percentage point higher than what the district calculated last October.

JCPS measures teacher retention and turnover differently than the state. Unlike KDE, JCPS doesn’t count teachers who move within the district as turnover. That means their retention rates are higher than the state’s calculations, and their turnover rates are lower.

JCPS human resources also takes a snapshot for a more recent time period than KDE. The retention rates JCPS releases each October roughly correspond to the turnover rates that KDE will release the following year.

A wave of resignations between May and October of 2022 sent JCPS’ retention rate last fall to the lowest in years. That corresponded to a spike in turnover that wasn’t reported until this October by KDE. KDE calculated the turnover rate at 26.1%.

But new numbers from JCPS suggest that wave of resignations may be ebbing slightly. JCPS Chief of Human Resources Aimee Green-Webb told LPM News the district’s contract with a company called Upbeat is helping to stop the bleeding.

JCPS signed a $684,000 two-year contract in 2022 with Upbeat to provide data analytics on teacher satisfaction and coaching to administrators at all 152 schools in the district. The New York-based data analytics firm surveys teachers twice a year.

“We take that information, share it with our principals, and then the principals get a coach to help them come up with a plan to make sure that they're honing in on what their teachers need,” Green-Webb explained.

The coaches are provided by Upbeat and may be retired or current administrators, according to Green-Webb. The data allows the district to see trends in the concerns teachers have and to target issues at individual schools.

Even with the improvements, retention is still lower than it was pre-pandemic, Green-Webb said.

That means vacancies are still a problem in JCPS, as they are statewide — especially in hard-to-hire areas like special education, math, science and multilingual education.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.