We hear the talking point often: those dastardly legislative Republicans are forcing North Carolina public school teachers to leave the classroom. So is that talking point true? I recently talked about the latest teacher turnover report with JLF”s Director of Research and Education Studies, Terry Stoops. Here’s part of our conversation.
Martinez: What are the data in this report? What does it say?
Stoops: Well, the data show that around 14 percent, or 13,000 teachers, left their teaching position last year. This is the 2012-13 school year. And I say “leave their position” because some of these teachers just went to go teach in other school districts or in charter schools. Others retired. So this doesn’t represent the turnover as it’s traditionally understood by a lot of people — someone leaving the profession completely. These are mostly teachers that left the profession or retired.
Martinez: So, for example, a teacher could have been teaching in Durham County and decided that they got a better offer over in Buncombe County, and off they went. That person goes into this report?
Stoops: That’s right. There are three reasons — three top reasons — why teachers left the profession, according to this report, or left their position. And that is to teach in another school district, retire, or move because of family relocation. And those are the three top reasons — mostly beyond the control of the state. I mean, if a teacher wants to teach in another school district, they should be free to do so. Obviously, if a teacher is thinking about retirement, they should do so. And you can’t do much about a family relocation. So that’s what this report shows, that those are the three [top] reasons why teachers left their position.
Martinez: Here’s where it gets really, really interesting. And we’ll get back to the policy questions in a moment. But when this report was released … there were a number of media stories and advocacy groups who came out and said, “Now, see? People are leaving the profession because of all the things that the legislators have passed.” [Reforms] that these groups consider to be anti-teacher. That got a reaction from you. Tell us about it.
Stoops: It really misrepresents what the report is saying. Well, first of all, if you look at the reasons why teachers left, and if you chalk it up to teachers leaving the state or being dissatisfied with the profession, that amounts to about 1,300 teachers; 1,300 of the 13,000 that left their position did so because of, either they wanted to teach out of state — and that’s not necessarily because of the policies of the Republicans; it’s just that they found a job in another state — or they were dissatisfied with teaching. And, again, that dissatisfaction may be caused by any number of factors in their current teaching position.
But to make the causal jump — the leap — that just because these teachers are leaving the profession or leaving to teach out of state, it’s because of Republican policies — the report just does not support that conclusion. We don’t have the information. We can’t get into each of the teacher’s heads and figure out exactly why they’re leaving. So what the media did — and what a lot of the groups on the Left did — is to attribute these teachers that left the profession permanently, attribute that to Republican policies. And there’s just no evidence that that’s the case.