Last Night’s PBS NewsHour May Have (Wildly) Overstated the Dropout Rate for New Teachers

Last night’s PBS NewsHour included a segment on the challenges facing newly-minted teachers heading out into the job market — including the high attrition rate for new teachers in the classroom.

“If and when they do get hired, chances are at least 40 percent of them will leave teaching in the first five years,” intones special correspondent John Merrow.

By one measure, Merrow was being conservative.  For many years, it was widely thought that half of all new teachers dropped out in five years. But I think that the figure that was used is now considered to be outdated or inaccurate, or at least isn’t as unquestioned a statistic as it once was. 

Just yesterday, the Huffington Post published this EdSource Today story (Teachers May Be Staying In The Classroom Longer Than Expected, Says Study), which states: 

“A recent federal study found that a much smaller percentage of beginning teachers leave the field in their first five years on the job than the widely quoted figure of 50 percent. It’s 17 percent, according to the new research.” EdWeek’s TeacherBeat reported the same findings in May (Teacher-Retention Rates Higher Than Previously Thought).

I’ve asked Merrow and his team, as well as others, to explain which number is accurate or why one is more appropriate over the other. I’ll let you know what if any response I get.

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Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at