Head Start Preschool Teacher Retention

I recently published an article in Early Childhood Research Quarterly (the best early childhood education journal) showing the factors that can predict Head Start preschool teachers quitting their employment across the first half of the school year (click here to read the published article).

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Study Design: Ten Head Start centers in one major Midwest city were recruited to participate (170 total preschool teachers). Head Start preschool teachers with two years or less of experience, were asked to complete a 16-item questionnaire, as well as a demographics questionnaire at the beginning of the school year (n = 65 participating preschool teachers).

In January, half-way through the school year, I learned from the Center Directors who had continued teaching and who had quit. I then compared the scores of those who stayed and those who quit for any differences.

Results:
Preschool teachers came from a variety of backgrounds, according to the demographic questionnaire–different races, ages, work experiences, education, etc. There were also some differences between lead and assistant preschool teachers (see full article). However, all but one of the participants were female.

Huge Turnover Rates:

  • 48% of all Head Start teachers were newly hired (within the last two years)!
  • 36% of newly hired teachers quit during the first half of the school year!

Salary:
The preschool teachers’ salary was not a contributing factor to their quitting their job. In fact, on a one-to-seven scale, preschool teachers who stayed rated their salary as a 3.9, while those who quit rated theirs as a 3.7 (statistically identical)–and both are just above the middle (3.5 out of 7), suggesting that both stayers and quitters think their salary is adequate.

Five factors differed between those who stayed and those who quit:

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Preschool teachers were more likely to quit if they:

  1. did not want to stay teaching in the early childhood education (ECE) field
  2. were not happy
  3. had a bad relationship with their supervisor
  4. did not like their work environment
  5. had a lower education

In addition, the more factors that an individual teacher possessed the more likely they were to quit (e.g. if they did not want to stay in ECE AND were not happy AND did not like their supervisor AND did not like their work environment AND had a low education).

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While those preschool teachers who kept teaching, either did not have any or had only one of these five risk factors.

Conclusion: Preschool teacher turnover affects child outcomes, the quality of the preschool program, the teachers who continue teaching, and those who feel they need to quit their job.

Interventions should use this information to tailor their programs, so that fewer preschool teachers quit their job; yielding positive outcomes for children, parents, the school, and the teachers.

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