Skip to content

What makes teachers stay? 



Stability in the teacher workforce is a factor associated with successful PK12 schools (Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013). However, teacher turnover and attrition is a growing problem both nationally and within Virginia. Research on trends in the teacher workforce has shown increased numbers of teachers transferring between schools and, in many cases, leaving the profession. This problem is especially apparent among early career teachers, where it is estimated that more than half leave teaching in the first five years of service (Ingersoll, 2001; Papay, Bacher-Hicks, Page, & Marinell, 2017). There are also particular content areas where shortages of teachers are the highest; this includes Special Education, Elementary Education, Middle Education, Career and Technical Education, and Science and Math (for example see Virginia Department of Education, Commonwealth of Virginia Critical Shortage Teaching Endorsement Areas 2018-19). This problem cannot be understated, as there is evidence that fewer teachers are choosing to enter the profession (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003; Ingersoll, 2001, 2002; US Department of Education, 2015).

All of this puts a financial burden on school divisions. The total costs for teacher absences nationwide in 2004 were estimated at $25 billion dollars (District Management Council, 2004). A pattern of continual teacher turnover exacts financial and organizational costs, with teacher attrition costing the United States as much as $2.2 billion a year. (Guin, 2004; Ingersoll, 2001; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013; Simon & Johnson, 2013; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014). Associated costs of teacher turnover include new teacher hiring, training and professional development (Barnes, Crowe, & Schaefer, 2007; Kraft, Marinell, & Yee, 2016; Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013)

It is also important to note that both the problem of teacher attrition and the intensity of these negative effects are most profound in the schools with the highest needs (Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2007; Allensworth, Ponisciak, & Mazzeo, 2009; Marinell & Coca, 2013; Barnes et al., 2007; Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 2003; Ronfeldt, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2013; Ingersoll, 2001).
In the spring of 2018, the Policy and Planning Council of the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) voted to commission a study on teacher retention that would provide insights into the phenomenon and practical recommendations for policy and practice. Following the selection of the topic, MERC assembled a research team that included faculty and graduate students from VCU’s School of Education and key school personnel from the seven MERC school divisions. The research team met on a regular basis through the summer and fall to develop research questions and design a study.


There are four goals that guide this study.
1. To develop a better understanding of the factors underlying the current patterns of teacher retention in the MERC region.
2. To support the development of district data practices that will allow for tracking teacher retention and understanding the factors driving it.
3. To conduct evaluation of current state and local policies focused on teacher retention to determine impact and cost/benefit.
4. To build a regional community of educational researchers and school leaders with professional expertise in the area of teacher retention.


Analysis of State Working Conditions Survey Data

MERC obtained the results from the 2019 VDOE Working Conditions Survey. The survey results were analyzed to understand the relationship between teachers’ experiences of work and their intent to stay or leave their current school. The results of this analysis are shared in “Will They Stay or Will They Go? Analysis of the VDOE 2019 Working Conditions Survey.”

Teacher Exit Survey

In 2019, Members of the research team collaborated with members of the study team as well as area directors of human resources to develop a common teacher exit survey, based on local and state models. For the past two years the survey has become the standard exit survey in five of the MERC school divisions.

Teacher Induction Cost Benefit Analysis

We currently have a team conducting a cross-case cost benefit analysis of the teacher induction programs in three MERC school divisions. This study involved document collection and conversations with school division leaders to determine the structures of programs and the costs. Using VDOE retention data, these costs were then analyzed in relation to the retention of early career teachers. A report on the findings will be shared in the fall of 2021.

Teacher Retention Policy Analysis

The policy analysis team completed interviews with school representatives about division-level policies focused on teacher retention according to five criteria 1) economic decisions, 2) avenues into the profession, 3) hiring strategies and policies, 4) professional development, and 5) working conditions. Our team analyzed interview transcripts and developed a matrix as well as brief narratives that are under member check with division representatives. A comparative report on division-level policy will be shared in the fall of 2021.

Analysis of State Retention Data

MERC obtained VDOE workforce data that includes information about retention of personnel across Virginia between 2007 and 2018. This data is currently being used to support our Cost Benefit Analysis of teacher induction programs, our cross-division policy analysis, and a Spencer Grant application on teacher induction in Virginia. This data will also be used to publish a series of short research briefs on trends in teacher retention. Proposed topics include: “Leadership retention and teacher retention”, “Principal- Teacher Match: Understanding the relationship between the presence of school leaders of color and retention of teachers of color”, and “Understanding the relationship between teacher retention and licensure”. These briefs will be released through the fall and winter of 2021.

Professional Development

MERC is currently designing online professional development resources based on work from this study. This will start with modules built out of an analysis of the MERC Experience of Work Survey. The goal with this initiative is to develop short professional learning modules for school leaders that encourage engagement with research literature and local data, and reflection on the leadership practices that influence the working conditions of teachers, and intent to stay.


This report provides an overview of federal, state, and regional policies and practices relevant to teacher retention. Using key informant interviews and document analysis, the report addresses the following research questions: What teacher retention policies exist at the federal, state, and local levels? How are these policies structured at the state level and local levels? How do teacher retention policies vary across MERC divisions? Following the findings, the report presents recommendations for policy and practice.



This policy brief examines the role of leadership, and specifically the school principal, in retaining teachers. The brief includes a review of studies that used survey scales to measure leadership and then disaggregate and re-aggregate the items in those scales into a handful of common themes. The purpose of this policy brief is to review the foundational literature on the role of the principal in order to develop a set of focus areas for principals who want to improve teacher retention.



Using data from the Virginia Department of Education 2019 Working Conditions Survey, this report presents an analysis of teacher working conditions in the MERC region and the factors that predict a teacher’s intent to stay in or leave their current school.


Abstract · How coherent are policies about teacher retention?

Featuring Jesse Senechal (MERC Director, VCU SOE), Andrene Castro (Assistant Professor, VCU SOE, Department of Educational Leadership), Adria Hoffman (Anna Lou Schaberg Professor, VCU SOE, Department of Teaching and Learning), and Andy Armstrong (Assistant Superintendent of Administration, Goochland County Public Schools).


Abstract · How Can Principals Support Teacher Retention?

This episode describes key findings from two MERC reports, one focused on the role of the school principal in teacher retention and the other sharing an analysis of data from the Virginia Department of Education Working Conditions Survey from 2019. Featuring Jesse Senechal (MERC Director, VCU SOE), Jonathan Becker (Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Educational Leadership), Valerie Robnolt (Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Department of Teaching and Learning), Lauren Grob (Student, The College of William and Mary), and John Marshall (Principal, Douglass Freeman High School, Henrico County Public Schools).


Abstract · Philosophy of Education Society Panel on Teacher Retention

This panel discussion at the Philosophy of Education Society Conference in March 2019 featured Doris Santoro from Bowdoin College (author of Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay), Winston Thompson from Ohio State University (host of the podcast PIPEline), Allison Fleming (teacher from Hanover County Public Schools), Jesse Senechal (Director of MERC and author of Understanding Teacher Morale), and David Naff (Assistant Director of MERC and host of the podcast ). The panel discussed how to connect educational philosophy, research, and practice to help teachers stay in the profession.


Abstract · MERC Roundtable: Teacher Retention

Jonathan Walker (Richmond), LaRon Scott (VCU), Bruce Fillman (Chesterfield), Meredith Parker (Powhatan), and Allison Fleming (Hanover) from our research and study team discuss the issue of teacher retention and our plans for this study. Click here to check out the full episode page.



MERC Seminar on Teacher Retention Policy Coherence (2/7/22)

This seminar shared the findings and recommendations from the MERC report Teacher Retention Policy Coherence: An Analysis of Policies and Practices Across Federal, State, and Division Levels. The seminar includes a panel discussion on key factors for supporting teacher retention with special attention to the current context of public education. Panelists included Adria Hoffman, PhD (Moderator), VCU SOE Anna Lou Schaberg Professor of Practice, Andrene Castro, PhD, VCU SOE Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Shane Riddle, Director of Government Relations Virginia Education Association, Missy Hill, EdD, CCPS New Teacher Support Specialist, Office of Professional Learning, and Kathy Burcher, Senior Director of Government Relations, Advantus Strategies.


Will They Stay or Will They Go? Lessons Learned from the MERC Teacher Retention Study (2021 MERC Conference)


Jesse Senechal (MERC), Kasey Dye (VCU), Valerie Robnolt (VCU), Elizabeth Edmondson (VCU), Erica Ross (VCU), Adria Hoffman (VCU), and Jonathan Becker (VCU) share key takeaways from the MERC Teacher Retention study.



    Bruce Fillman, Principal, Hening Elementary School
    Denise Bowes, Assistant Principal, Midlothian High School
    Jason Buck, Human Resources Administrator
    Vinny Neffinger, Assistant Director of Recruitment

Andy Armstrong, Executive Director for Business Operations

Tina McCay, Principal, Goochland Elementary School

Ann Wallace, Teacher, Pearsons Corner Elementary School

Allison Fleming, Senior Teacher, Mechanicsville High School

Angela Stewart, Educational Specialist, Professional Learning and Leadership

Leah Wiedenhoft, Assistant Principal, Glen Allen High School

Jess Burbic, Associate Principal, Godwin High School

Paige Tucker, Talent Manager

Meredith Parker, Director of Human Resources

Darlene Currie, Director of Professional Development

Helen Demena, Manager of Talent Acquisition, Human Resources

Johnathan Walker, Teacher, Binford