Teacher Turnover in MNPS

It is a problem. A big one. The Tennessean reports:

Over 50 percent of the teachers leaving Metro Nashville Public Schools are within their first three years of teaching, according to district officials.

The article notes the district is taking some steps to address this:

Due to the high turnover, district leaders said they hope to expand retention initiatives in the coming year by making mandatory a new teacher introductory program, as well as ensuring all new teachers have a seasoned mentors to guide them.

Those are both important. Mentoring can be a great way to help new teachers navigate their first years in a very challenging profession.

School Board member Amy Frogge also raised the issue of teacher pay. It’s certainly worth examining.

As I noted earlier this week, teachers in Nashville aren’t paid as well as their counterparts in similar urban districts, like Louisville. They also face a city with a rising cost of living.

This fact should be of concern:

The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.

Teach your heart out in MNPS for 10 years and you still don’t make $50,000 a year. Is it any wonder teachers leave early on to pursue other, more financially rewarding careers?

No, it’s not all about money. But when teachers in Nashville can’t even earn enough to live comfortably in the city, we have a problem. When teachers in Nashville earn $15,000 less than teachers in Louisville after 20 years of experience, we have a problem.

Leaving behind the comparison to Louisville, one big problem is teacher pay relative to cost of living:

Imagine working for 25 years in the same profession, earning an advanced degree in your field, and making $7000 less than the “comfortable living” salary for your city? That’s what’s happening in MNPS.

Another part of the problem with teacher pay in Nashville can be attributed to a state government that has historically kept teacher pay relatively low. In fact, teachers in Tennessee earn roughly 30% less than similarly educated professionals.

Certainly, a number of factors contribute to high teacher turnover among early career teachers. Teaching is a difficult job and doing it well requires resources and support. Teacher pay is certainly a part of the equation. Adding mentors and mandating an introductory program may help, but addressing pay is also essential. As the Tennessean article notes:

Last year, the district faced more than 100 vacancies by the end of July and with about a week until school started. That was higher than in previous years, given the district has averaged about 40 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the school year.

It’s difficult to sign people up for a challenging job that pays 30% less than other professions requiring similar preparation. It’s clearly challenging to keep people in those jobs once they’ve taken them.

How long will MNPS’s relatively low pay for teachers be sustainable?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


6 thoughts on “Teacher Turnover in MNPS

  1. Outstanding article, but perhaps a little late to the game. Louisville is a different comparison, but the sad comparison is with at least 12 other Tennessee school districts that pay more than MNPS. Did you follow the MNEA fight against the COLA rollback last spring?

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’ve written several pieces on teacher pay in MNPS — this one in direct response to the turnover issue. In the competition for teachers who want to be in urban districts, MNPS does a pretty poor job of setting itself up for success. Too often, the solutions are tinkering around the margins. And yes, it is sad when the largest city in the state with access to tremendous resources underpays its districts relative to others in Tennessee. We’re already a low-paying state when in comes to teachers. Nashville can and should do better. Much better.

  2. I completely agree with you. I don’t understand how the state capital pays teachers so low. One would think the capital would want to be the example that other cities in the state would want to follow; however, we see even being close to the Board of Education doesn’t matter. It merely shows enormous bridge between those that make decisions and those that work them.

  3. This is definitely true! I just left metro after nine years. While there were many factors leading to that decision, pay was one of them. I went from making 47,000 a year to 61,000 to teach in Cincinnati. It is still a public school and the demographics are similar. The cost of living is definitely a lot lower here too. Nashville will need to address these issues if they would like to retain their teachers.

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