The Effect of School Closings on Teacher Retention and Productivity
Andrew Hill, Ph.D, MA, MCom, BSc, Assistant Professor of Economics
There have been widespread school closings in the US in the past two decades in response to both demographic shifts and high-stakes school accountability policies. Although there is recent evidence that school closings do not adversely affect displaced students, little is known about the effects on displaced teachers. Our paper intends to address this gap. First, we will explore the extent to which teachers leave the public school teacher labor market after school closings. This is important given the general concerns around teacher retention, especially if better-performing displaced teachers with more outside options are more likely to leave the teacher labor market. And, second, we will investigate whether teachers moving from closing schools experience productivity shocks (as measured by teacher value-added) in new schools. If low-performing teachers stay in the teacher labor market and remain low-performing, the potential benefits of school closings may be mitigated, while improvements in teacher performance would suggest a second-order benefit from closing failing schools beyond improving educational environments for displaced students.
The total number of public schools in the US has been relatively flat at just under 100,000 in recent years, but this masks a considerable number of school openings and closings. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1,737 schools closed in the 2013-2014 academic year, displacing about 17,000 teachers. This represents a sizeable labor market shock for the displaced teachers and a large shift in a key educational input for the displaced students. The recent policy emphasis on high-stakes school accountability, school choice, and charter schools may lead to continued public school closings, emphasizing the need to fully understand their consequences.
Our aims in this project are twofold. First, we will investigate the effects of school closings on teacher retention. We are interested in the extent to which teachers from closing schools stay in the public school system, and, furthermore, whether there are heterogeneous retention effects by teacher quality. School closings are likely to be negative experiences for teachers, and disillusioned teachers may leave the public education sector. This, of course, is not necessarily a negative outcome educationally if the teachers that leave teaching are low-performing. In fact, the objective of the high-stakes school accountability measures that lead to school closings is precisely to reduce student exposure to poor educational inputs that may be otherwise difficult to change or terminate. At the same time, though, several high-performing teachers may be displaced by closing schools, and if these more productive workers have better outside options than their less productive colleagues, they may be disproportionately likely to leave public school teaching.
Second, we are interested in exploring whether teachers moving from closing schools experience productivity shocks. For teachers leaving schools that have been forced to close due to not meeting accountability standards, moving to a new school is likely a move to a better educational environment with better peer teachers and a better principal. Given the evidence that teacher peer quality affects teacher performance (Jackson and Bruegmann, 2009), the potential for these teachers to become more productive is clear. On the other hand, teachers from closing schools may be unmotivated and less committed to their students given their negative experience of teaching in a closing school, reducing their productivity. The spillover effects of school closings on teacher quality may be an important consideration for policymakers to incorporate when considering policies that affect school closings.
Significance of the Project
Although both school accountability and school choice are well studied, less is known about the school closings that may be a result of these policies. The current research focuses on the effects of school closings on displaced students, with mixed results. Brummet (2014) finds that school closings in Michigan did not have adverse effects on the achievement of displaced students, Sacerdote (2012) documents temporary declines in student achievement from school closings due to Hurricane Katrina, while Engberg et al. (2012) argues that students are very negatively affected by school closings. Our objective is to add this literature by focusing on what happens to displaced teachers rather than displaced students from closing schools.
This paper investigates a potential consequence of major education regulation currently being promoted by the US Education Secretary.Although this project is not a direct evaluation of a policy intervention, it will improve our understanding of a second-order effect of school accountability and school choice policies, and, in so doing, help policymakers develop a fuller picture of potential policy consequences.