Losing Experienced Teachers Won't Tank Test Scores: Study



A new study finds that when school districts offer experienced teachers early retirement, the quality of instruction doesn't suffer, despite what one might predict.

The analysis, by Cornell's Maria Fitzpatrick and Michael Lovenheim, looked at Illinois schools that offered early retirement incentives in the 1990s. And here's the key finding: 

We find the program did not reduce test scores; likely, it increased them, with positive effects most pronounced in lower-[socio-economic-status] schools.

The Freakonomics blog picked up this study, and pulled these musings from the paper: 

On the one hand, retiring teachers are highly experienced, and they typically are replaced with much less-experienced teachers or with new teachers. The evidence of the strong relationship between experience and effectiveness in the classroom…suggests teacher retirements could reduce student achievement….

On the other hand, teachers who are near retirement may put forth less effort than younger teachers or may be less well-trained in modern, potentially more effective, pedagogical practices. This may be particularly true for those teachers who desire to retire early. 

The findings cast a negative light on the first-in, firstlast-out seniority hiring and firing policies that are so common in public schools. The study also found that principals use the money freed up by retiring senior teachers to make structural changes, such as tweaks in class size or investment in "non-teacher resources," like computers or other tools.