Are Iowa's teacher retention efforts worth the money?

Like most states, Iowa is concerned with the retention rate of its new teachers. Over the past decade Iowa has instituted a number of different efforts to combat new teacher turnover, including:

  1. participation in a 2-year induction program by every new teacher;
  2. an annual statewide mentoring and induction institute;
  3. an annual awards program that recognizes outstanding new teacher mentoring and leadership;
  4. a mentoring and induction network that operates through our Area Educational Agencies (AEAs);
  5. a mentoring and induction statewide steering committee;
  6. development of a mentoring and induction model that districts and AEAs can implement; and
  7. at least one statewide survey of new teachers, mentors, and administrators.
  8. As the latest report from the Iowa Department of Education notes, Iowa's efforts have improved its new teacher retention rate. Of the 3,520 first- and second-year teachers that began the year in 2007-2008, 3,243 (92.1%) returned in 2008-2009. Only 277 new teachers left the profession. If Iowa was still losing new teachers at the 2001 rate (87.5%), we would have lost 440 teachers instead. In other words, all of the above activity resulted in a net retention gain of 163 teachers.

    How much is too much? The cost of each net new teacher retained.

    How much did all of this cost? Well, the Iowa Department of Education allocation table shows that in 2007-2008 the Iowa Department of Education spent $4,678,050 on payments to new teacher mentors and their districts or AEAs (Item 1 above). The costs for Items 2 through 7 were covered by grants and other funding sources. This means that Iowa spent $28,700 for each net new teacher retained (total cost / 163) for Item 1 alone, never mind whatever additional expenses there were for Items 2 through 7.

    Of course this raises the question of whether the net gain was worth the financial outlay by the state. Most of us are in favor of trying to improve new teacher retention and school district educator induction. At some point, however, the cost becomes too prohibitive for the gain achieved. Is this how much we should spend for each net new teacher retained?

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