Phased Retirement Key to Coping with Teacher Brain Drain

April 7, 2009 ( - School districts around the country need to adopt phased retirement policies or they will ultimately get caught severely shorthanded after an upcoming wave of boomer-aged teacher retirements.

That was the key takeaway from a recent report by an education industry group that warned that more than half the nation’s teachers are now 50 and older and will be eligible for retirement over the next decade. This retirement “tsunami” could rob schools of valuable experience, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future ( NCTAF)report asserted.

Many Baby Boomer teachers appear to be supportive of the phased retirement notion, according to a recent survey NCTAF poll. The group said it found almost 60% of Baby Boomer teachers reported they intend to work after retirement. Seventy percent of the teachers nearing retirement would be interested in staying if they were able to work in new roles in “phased or flexible retirement” according to NCTAF’s survey.

Some 67% of the teachers surveyed view “retirement as a time to begin a new chapter in life that is more flexible” as opposed to “rest from work” or “time to begin new challenges.” Not only that, NCTAF said, 62% of teachers would consider working in a different capacity in education post-retirement, because they want to stay active and productive, and continue to help students.

With an eye toward preventing a massive brain drain from Boomer teachers leaving the system entirely, the NCTAF study contended that districts needed to rethink their retirement/pension policies to provide for phased retirement.

“These (existing retirement) approaches are too often limited by confusing regulations and pension penalties that limit the retiree’s contributions and hours,” the group wrote. “In short, the effects of teacher pension systems on teaching quality and school performance are in need of a thorough reexamination across every state and school district.”

A separate poll, the Schools and Staffing Survey, came up with similar results, according to the NCTAF report.

The number of teachers answering that survey who said they are willing to stay active as long as physically able rose from 33% in 1993-94 to 46% in 2003-04. Additionally, 60% of teachers who have left (including retirees) say they would consider returning. More than a third of those teachers (36%) report that part-time opportunities to work in education would be a critical factor in their return.

NCTAF concluded: "Retirement policies built around the notion that accomplished veterans should leave the classroom, simply because they are in their fifties, are also obsolete. States and school districts need to reexamine the fiscal consequences of pension provisions that push teachers in their fifties out of the workforce….Efforts to draw on the expertise of Baby Boom educators during retirement must go beyond current stopgap measures to employ retired educators in shortage areas."

The NCTAF report is available here .