Utah teacher retention lower than average, 42% leave in first five years

Dec 14, 2021, 3:20 PM | Updated: 3:21 pm
teacher retention Utah...
Third-grade teacher Leslie Fiskell teaches her class using a new reading literacy program at Heartland Elementary School in West Jordan, Utah on October 27, 2021 (Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)
(Nick Wyatt, KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has a teacher retention problem. Specifically, a new teacher retention problem

A new state audit found the state is having trouble keeping teachers teaching within their first five years on the job. 

Where Utah stacks up nationally

“Compared to national averages this [the new teacher retention] is very high,” said Legislative Auditor Mathais Boon during a presentation to a committee of lawmakers last week. 

Forty-two percent of teachers leave within their first five years. The national averages sit between 17 and 46%. 

But the overall retention rate is actually pretty high. 

“Some states have a turnover rate of over 20 percent rate each year,” said Boon. “Utah has a 9.2 percent turnover rate.”  

It’s not about their pay

“In the report, we note four major concerns that teachers made,” says Boon. “Namely high stress, heavy workloads, concerns with their administrators, and pay. We were surprised to find pay was not the leading concern among teachers.”

Entry-level teachers can make anywhere between $21,000 and $56,000. And some districts have been giving bonuses during the pandemic

“Thirty percent of the teachers we spoke with highlighted the fact that they have heavy workloads,” he said. “This may not be surprising as we know that Utah has really large classroom sizes in elementary, junior, and high school.”

In Utah’s public school system there are 675,247 students.

What about the teacher shortages?

The audit found teacher shortages are local and occur more frequently in rural school districts.

One finding in the report illustrated that shortages are being filled by teachers who aren’t professionally licensed: 

“In more than half of all rural districts and in one urban district, nonprofessionally licensed teachers constitute 10 percent or more of the teaching workforce. While charters were not included in this analysis, they contain, on average, workforces with 26 percent nonprofessionally licensed teachers. Additional information on teacher shortages can be found in this dashboard. In surveys issued from 2016 to 2018, at least 75 percent of responding school districts reported that the pool of “qualified” candidates is shrinking.”

Those findings suggest that not only do rural areas struggle to fill vacancies, but they struggle to fill them with appropriately licensed people.

And the audit says that’s a problem because non-professionally licensed teachers have higher turnover rates than those with a professional license.

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