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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

A record number of Wisconsin teachers left their classrooms last school year

Milwaukee Public Schools has hired international teachers, including Jamaica native Mortimer Bennett, to offset its teacher shortage.
Emily Files
Milwaukee Public Schools hired international teachers, including Jamaica native Mortimer Bennett, to offset its teacher shortage.

Teacher turnover in Wisconsin reached record levels last school year. Sixteen percent of public school teachers left their classrooms.

That turnover surpasses even the educator exodus following Act 10 — the law former Republican Gov. Scott Walker introduced in 2011 to curtail public unions’ power.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum details these findings in a new report, titled “Revolving Classroom Doors.”

Senior researcher Sara Shaw, who co-authored the report, says the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on teacher turnover didn't happen immediately. In 2021, teacher turnover was below average, at 10.5%. In 2022, it crept up to 12.4%. Then, it spiked in 2023, to 15.8%.

Teacher turnover for 2023 refers to the 2022-23 school year. It reflects teachers who left or moved school districts between fall 2021 and fall 2022.

"In the instability of that first year of the pandemic, teachers were largely staying put," Shaw says. "Then as the impact continued, they started leaving."

The last time Wisconsin saw such a spike in teacher turnover was in 2012.

Shaw says in 2012, teacher turnover was largely driven by post-Act 10 retirements.

"[2012] was kind of a one-time shock to the system, as teachers retired either on time or early," Shaw says. "In 2023 ... it seems we see a higher number of other types of leaves, and also it was the highest rate of moves in the data — so teachers moving between districts."

In the teacher turnover data, "leaves" refers to a teacher leaving the public school classroom altogether. "Moves" refers to when a teacher moves from one public school district to another.

Shaw found that the smallest rural districts (serving 479 students or less) have the highest teacher turnover. The average turnover in those districts is 14%, compared to the state average of 11.5%.

Teacher turnover is also higher in districts serving majority students of color, and in districts serving majority low-income students.

Teachers of color, who make up about 5% of Wisconsin's educator workforce, are more likely to leave classrooms. On average, about 11% of white teachers turnover each year, compared to 18% of Black teachers, 14% of Hispanic teachers, 12% of Asian teachers.

Black teacher turnover reached 23% in 2023 — meaning almost one in four Black teachers left their classrooms last school year.

The Policy Forum report notes: "Turnover among teachers of color is of particular concern due to the documented benefits for all students and especially for students of color from the presence of these educators."

Shaw found that rural and city districts lose more teachers to other districts than they gain, while suburban and town districts gain more than they lose.

Shaw refers to the districts with more teacher "move outs" as "donor" districts, and those with more teacher "move ins" as "recipient" districts.

Shaw found that donor districts, who have more teachers leaving, also tend to be districts that are serving more low-income students and students of color. Districts with more affluent students and more white students tend to be recipient districts.

"On the whole, our findings did support some of the stereotypes that exist in the profession," Shaw says. "Where it was our districts serving the fewest students, our rural districts, our city districts, our districts serving majority students of color, and our districts serving majority students from low-income backgrounds that were the donor districts. And those are in many cases, the districts where we most worry about instability for students creating negative impacts."

Shaw says it's too early to tell whether teacher turnover will remain elevated in the upcoming school year.

"If unemployment starts rising or the labor market cools a little bit, or inflation continues cooling, we may see this mobility cool down," Shaw says. "On the other hand, if some of these pressures continue, either in the classroom or outside of it, we could see the turnover rate stay at this high level."


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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