Maryland schools struggle to retain young, qualified teachers
ANNAPOLIS | In nine years of teaching elementary school, Robin Beers has always felt the profession never came easy.
Beers did not decide she wanted to teach until after undergrad when she received her master’s degree in special education. Ever since entering teaching, she said she has felt as if she has not had enough time or support to consistently succeed.
Now that she is settled at an Anne Arundel elementary school teaching third grade, Ms. Beers has overcome many of the struggles young teachers face when first entering the profession.
“It’s overwhelming,” Ms. Beers said. “I often struggle to keep things in perspective. I sometimes have to tell myself, ‘You’re not running the Pentagon; it’s going to be OK.’”
Maryland schools are often touted as some of the best in the country, but beneath the surface, it is becoming increasingly difficult to retain experienced teachers during the first few years into the profession despite receiving relatively high pay among teachers nationwide.
The 2016 edition of Education Week’s “Quality Counts” report gave Maryland schools an overall B rating, which ranks the state among the top five in the country.
Additionally, Maryland’s eligible schools received the highest percentage of gold and silver awards from a 2016 U.S. News report. Gold and silver awards reflect which schools best prepare students for college and achieve passing scores on Advanced Placement tests.
Despite this, Maryland, like much of the country, struggles to curb teacher turnover, especially in the most disadvantaged areas.
“It is a widespread issue,” said Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. “Teaching is a high turnover occupation.”
Nearly half of new teachers who have completed between one to two years of teaching will have left the field by the beginning of the third full year, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education’s 2014-2015 teacher and principal effectiveness ratings.
In the 2015-2016 school year, Maryland lost 4,536 of its approximate 60,000 teachers, a 7 percent attrition rate, according to state department of education. Forty percent, or 1,815, of those lost teachers had five or fewer years of experience.
Moreover, 29.7 percent of teachers in the state have fewer than five years of experience, whereas teachers with more than 20 years of experience account for about 16 percent.
“There is research that shows there is a link between teacher experience and the quality of teaching that goes on in the classroom,” said Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union. “When there is a lot of turnover, it’s harder to establish relationships between teachers and students.”
While Mr. Ingersoll says teacher retention rates are low across the country, a September report from the Learning Policy Institute gave Maryland a teacher attractiveness rating of 2.1 on a 5-point average quintile scale, which is tied for 46th in the country along with Mississippi and New Mexico.
For comparison, the highest rated state in terms of attracting educators, Oregon, received a rating of 4.09. The Learning Policy Institute created this scale by drawing data from National Center for Education Statistics, said Desiree CarverThomas, research and policy associate with the institute.
As part of a state teacher mentoring program, Oregon was able to retain 90 percent of teachers during the 2013-2014 school year.
Maryland teachers, however, are better compensated compared to the rest of the country with an average starting salary of $43,235, which ranks fifth in the country, and an average overall salary of $66,482, which ranks seventh, according to National Education Association.
But Mr. Mendelson and Ms. CarverThomas said simply compensating teachers with higher salaries isn’t enough to keep retention rates afloat.