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Teacher Turnover Costs How Much?!?!?!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Damian Kavanagh, SAIS

$7,500 per teacher – that’s what turnover costs you  and this is a conservative estimate. The average SAIS school spends $54,750 on teacher turnover every year and again, this is a conservative estimate. With the continuing demand for high quality teachers and a dramatic shortage of high quality teachers, there is a perfect storm driving up not just salaries, but dollars allocated to recruitment and retention. 

The cost of teacher turnover in American public schools is conservatively estimated at 7.3 billion dollars per year (Carroll, 1). While there has not been a comparable study and estimate calculated for the net cost of teacher turnover in independent schools, we could predict the figure to track closely with the enrollment differentials. Approximately 10% of all students in the US attend some form of nonpublic school; by extrapolation, the cost of teacher turnover in nonpublic schools could be $730,000,000 annually (10% of 7.3 billion dollars). Teacher replacement costs include elements such as search fees if you use a consulting firm, salary allocations (human resource, dean of faculty, department heads, division directors, head of school, etc.), background checks, transportation and lodging costs for candidates, etc.

Among SAIS member schools, the average faculty retention rate for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years was 90% (SAIS-MISBO IDP Survey) and the average FTE count for faculty was 74 (NAIS DASL Survey for the same time period)– meaning that the average SAIS school has 7.4 teachers to be replaced annually. The average cost per “teacher leaver” (Carroll, 11) for urban vs. nonurban school district is $7,500 – that is the figure for public schools and while you could easily make the argument that independent schools are more selective in faculty, so the amount is likely higher, since there isn’t any comparable data actually available, we may as well use that figure in our calculations. The cost to the average SAIS school is $54,750 ($7,500 x 7.4) and the total cost for 376 SAIS independent schools is therefore a staggering $20,586,000. This is about 0.58% of the combined budgets of SAIS schools. To give some additional perspective, this is only slightly less than schools spend on professional development. The latest NAIS DASL data shows that southern independent schools spend 0.76% of budget on PD. Teacher salaries and benefits represent the largest percentage of overall budget and SAIS published a 20-year longitudinal study of faculty salaries and trends in a FastStats from April 2015. The article was focused on salaries and not on recruitment or retention costs. 

From this quantitative analysis of dollars allocated, I was interested in examining and comparing retention and recruitment practices at a large and well-resourced school with the practices at a small and financially less-resourced school. I conducted interviews with people responsible for the human resource function at two independent schools, one a CFO at a large urban school that enjoyed stable leadership and the other the head of a small suburban school that had experienced recent executive leadership transition. The focus was narrowly on the classroom teacher as recruitment for chief and senior administrators in independent schools follows a very different strategy and SAIS has written about this in the Succession booklet and an article on succession in March 2016.

Why Teach and Why Teach Here? 

The basic principle driving the supply of teachers is the following:

Individuals will become or remain teachers if teaching represents the most attractive activity to pursue among all activities available to them. By attractive, we mean desirable in terms of ease of entry and overall compensation (salary, benefits, working conditions, and personal satisfaction). These elements of attractiveness are the policy levers that can be manipulated at the school, district, or state levels to bring supply in line with demand. The demand for teachers is driven by student enrollments, class-size targets, teaching-load norms, and budgetary constraints. (Guarino, 175).

Following detailed conversations with the CFO of the large school and the head of the small school, five basic and similar strategies clearly emerged.

  1. Reputation: each school utilizes reputation and word of mouth as the primary means of recruitment. Several specific strategies are employed to maintain an excellent reputation:
    1. current faculty to be highly visible in their field at state, regional, and national conferences;
    2. administrators (head, principals, CFO, etc.) maintaining a high degree of visibility and involvement in professional conferences, associations, consortia, collaborative partnerships, accreditation teams;
    3. building and sustaining relationships with community leaders, local charitable organizations, etc.
    4. achieving a publicized designation as a desirable work place (for the large urban school)
  2. Recruitment: both schools also recruited by posting on state and regional independent school job boards. There was a noted aversion to posting on a job board nationally for teacher recruiting purposes as both schools indicated limited successful candidates from those postings and felt that the state and regional independent school boards were sufficient.
  3. Database: the schools each maintain a thorough database of recent resumes, keeping them on file for a certain time period - one school kept resumes on file for four years. These files are of teachers who have already expressed an interest in the school; they are one of the first resources tapped by the schools.
  4. Attending job fairs: the large school indicated that this is something one particular person does.
  5. Working with teacher placement agencies: the large school indicated that the teacher placement agencies are not effective in bringing candidates who fit the mission and culture of the school; the small school indicated that one particular placement agency brings only excellent fits for the culture of the school. 

Turnover has traditionally been very low at both schools. In the large school, most teacher turnover is due to retirement or relocation – this anecdotal evidence gathered from interviews tracks with public school data: “attrition is high for young or new teachers and lower for older or more experienced teachers until they reach ages at which retirement is feasible” (Guarino, 185). The five-year faculty retention rate at the small school hovers around 94-97%, which is significantly better than the SAIS average for the past two years of 90%. The small school experienced its largest turnover in recent memory this current school year (14%), which is attributable to the factors mentioned above as well as a new executive leader who counseled several teachers out.

Supporting New Teachers with Professional Learning

Both schools are actively engaged in assisting new teachers to be as successful as possible. While not all schools are as attentive to mentoring and developing new teachers, the two schools interviewed are fully aware of the significance of sustained support in these arenas. Both schools have multi-day orientation and induction processes for teachers new to the school that occur prior to the start of school. The large school has a well-developed process of induction that includes multiple touch points throughout the school year with a mentor and with a PLC-style cohort group. In the small school, a major improvement initiative is to deepen the PLC culture at the school and encourage more collaborative learning among all faculty members throughout the course of the year.

In reviewing research that discussed in-service policies, we found that a number of working conditions were related to success in recruitment and retention. Mentoring and induction programs, class sizes, the level of autonomy granted to teachers, and the amount of administrative support teachers received often appeared to play a prominent role in teachers’ decisions to quit or remain on the job. In addition, a recent study found that statewide school accountability policies might have an impact on teacher retention. (Guarino, 197)

Successful induction and continuous commitment to professional growth are intentional elements of each school’s long-term retention strategy. Re-recruitment (Norton, 7-8) and creating favorable conditions (Norton, 52) are other factors that are just as significant in creating the kind of culture in which teachers want to remain.

Identification of Teaching Needs and Attention to Diversity

Identification of specific teaching needs from one year to the next tends to be reactionary – employment contracts are issued in the late winter/early spring and are typically due within 10 days. Some planning occurs to anticipate retirements and the large school is concerned with replacing an aging faculty and capturing the institutional knowledge that will be departing.

While each school identified that some positions are more challenging to fill than others (both noted physics), neither school has lost a candidate due to factors such as reasonable compensation (one school reported losing a teacher to an offer that was 25% more than their offer, however, cost of living indices suggest the difference was not that great). Few independent schools have a rigid pay scale, preferring rather to negotiate within a range. There is very limited research that has been conducted on the link between independent school teacher compensation and levels of performance. A strong case has been made by researchers at Vanderbilt (Goodgame, Schuermann) advocating for salary banding to allow for greater administrative flexibility.

Both schools, like all independent schools, continue to be concerned with delivering on their public purpose and promise to deliver an egalitarian education. Both schools are very aware of pervasive public opinion towards independent schools as elitist and discriminatory. As a continued means of attracting minorities to the teaching ranks, the small school is actively engaged with a recruiter who specializes in minorities and those less frequently represented in independent schools. The large school has achieved a measure of visible success in its academic and executive leadership team. The small school will continue to face challenges in attracting a racially diverse faculty, primarily due to location, while the large school has been and will likely continue to be successful in building a teaching community that is as diverse (if not more so) than its student population.

Survey of Recent Hires

A three-question survey was distributed to recent hires (as defined by being hired within the last five years). The three questions were:

  1. What was your first year at the school?
  2. How were you recruited to the school? Job posting, word of mouth, teacher placement agency, etc.
  3. Describe your interview process.  

Annual analysis of the methods of recruiting show that the process has favored word of mouth in the most recent year (from 33% of methods cited to 64%), but in previous years, job posting was the most prevalent. The composite view of the survey results is listed below:

Job Fair                      3.1%
Job Posting               40.6%
Placement                  3.1%
Recruited                    6.3%
Word of Mouth           46.9%

The third question asked provided qualitative information regarding the process. The experiences described by the recent hires were internally consistent with each other and included elements such as observations and multiple interviews – all of which included an interview with the head of school prior to an offer of employment. Teachers reported a high level of satisfaction with the process of recruitment and selection.

The small school has implemented an interview and induction protocol that the new executive leadership developed and used at a former school. Over the course of several meetings, the existing faculty members were asked to create a “portrait of the teacher” who could be successful at the school. Based on characteristics identified by faculty members, an interview and screening process was developed to assess the various characteristics (using appropriate questions and constructs) and to coordinate sets of questions asked by multiple interviewers.


It is a misconception that large and small schools have widely differing practices and beliefs related to recruitment and retention. Large schools have resources and personnel to dedicate to the expensive proposition of replacing teachers, but the basic procedures and the commitment to mission is similar at each size school. Several independent school associations have created principles of most effective practice that call upon schools to follow a strict code of ethics throughout the recruitment process. Accreditation standards, such as SAIS indicators 5.1-5.5, require schools to have well-thought-out and mission-centered guidelines associated with all phases of the relationship with teachers: recruitment, screening, induction, employment, professional growth, evaluation, discipline, and separation.

The large school is a well-oiled machine that is able to market itself because of a strong position in the independent school community and a clear sense of humility towards serving the community that transcends the customary competition that is evident in nonpublic education. The small school has been well served over its history and has been able to thrive; their attention to the human resource function is apparent.

There are opportunities for schools to analyze their own approach to teacher recruitment and retention in light of their mission and their current practices. A framework that may be applicable to independent schools is consideration of research related to staffing “hard-to-staff” public schools. While the reasons these schools have challenges finding qualified teachers are vastly different, the methodologies employed are potentially quite similar. Search consultants were not included in this study and may yield insights for future consideration: what measures of success could be used by consultants: length of time from posting to teacher contract; longevity of teacher placements; satisfaction surveys from schools and teachers? And finally, can the high cost of teacher replacement be reduced through a greater emphasis on early training and a greater commitment to helping new teachers learn the culture of independent schools?


SAIS offers several professional development opportunities for both faculty and administrators. Read more about our summer institutes below. 

Institute for New Teachers 

Leadership Development Institute 

 Administrative Leadership Institute Institute for Strategic Leadership  

Select Bibliography of Works Cited

Carroll, T. (2007), Policy Brief: The High Cost of Teacher Turnover. Retrieved from 

Goodgame, C., Patterson, L., & Edwards, M. (2008). An Exploratory Study of Factors Related to Hiring and Developing Effective Teachers in SAIS Member Schools; Vanderbilt University EdD Capstone Project. SAIS. Retrieved September 20, 2014.

Guarino, C., Santibanez, L., & Daley, G. (2006). Teacher recruitment and retention: A review of the recent empirical literature. Review of Educational Research, 72(2), 173–208.

Norton, M. (2008). Human Resources Administration for Educational Leaders. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Perlman, C., & Redding, S. (Eds.). (Revised 2011, January). Handbook on Effective Implementation of School Improvement Grants. Retrieved September 20, 2014.

School Intelligence - IDP-Dashboards. (2013, Fall). School Intelligence - IDP-Dashboards. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from

Schuermann, P.J. (2006). An Integrated Approach to Faculty Evaluation, Professional Development, and Compensation: Resources for Independent School Leaders. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (304982878. [3233106]).



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