The COVID-19 pandemic affected teachers in myriad, unprecedented ways. In spring 2020, most schools in the United States shut their doors and were forced to switch to remote learning. Changes in instructional mode, coupled with general health and economic concerns brought on by the pandemic, negatively impacted teachers and led to increases in levels of stress and burnout.
In this report, Sarah S. Barry and Tim R. Sass use administrative data covering SY 2016–17 through fall of SY 2021–22 from two metro-Atlanta school districts (DeKalb County School District and Gwinnett County Public Schools) to analyze trends in teacher hiring and retention. The data include information on teacher employment status as well as information on teacher experience, certification, subject area taught, school assignment, and teacher demographic characteristics. We aim to provide a better understanding of teacher labor markets in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and determine appropriate policy interventions in response to changes in teacher mobility and retention.
We find that, while there have been changes in attrition and teacher hiring over time, most post-pandemic observations appear to have reverted to pre-pandemic trends. Attrition in both districts initially decreased after the onset of the pandemic. Attrition in Gwinnett remains lower than the pre-pandemic trend, while attrition in DeKalb is slightly higher than before the pandemic. In both districts, the proportion of teachers with 30 or more years of experience who left their respective districts has been on an upward trend since at least SY 2016–17. It does not appear that the pandemic has led to a worsening of teacher attrition in hard-to-staff subject areas. In addition, the proportion of new hires in both districts initially dropped soon after the start of the pandemic. The proportion of new teachers in Gwinnett has since increased relative to the pre-pandemic period. In Dekalb, the proportion of new teachers is well below pre-pandemic levels, though changes have not impacted average student-teacher ratios.
Pre-pandemic challenges to recruiting and retaining teachers remain, particularly in “high-need” areas like math and science and special education, and warrant careful analysis of pandemic-era financial incentives (such as those used by the two districts in this study) to determine if these policies could help address teacher shortages in specific subject areas. Further, districts should carefully consider pre-pandemic conditions as they look to better understand any attrition and hiring issues they face.
Barry, Sarah S. and Sass, Tim R., "Teacher Labor Markets in Metro Atlanta During the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2023). Georgia Policy Labs Reports. 42.