by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
The N.C. State Board of Education just posted the draft 2015-16 “State of the Teaching Profession Report.” The report, previously and incorrectly titled “Annual Report on Teachers Leaving the Profession,” is subject to change and still requires approval by the State Board, which will meet next week.
Aside from the name change, there were big and long-overdue changes to this year’s report. In 2015, state lawmakers and Governor McCrory approved a bill that required the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to collect more detailed statistics about North Carolina teachers who leave the profession, choose to teach in another state, or move to a position in a different school or school district. Much of Session Law 2015-126 does not go into effect until 2017. Nevertheless, in this year’s report, DPI researchers included some of the data points and modifications mandated by the law.
The draft report indicates that the overall attrition rate for 2015-16 was 9.04 percent. Because of changes made to the report, N.C. Department of Public Instruction researchers say that this year’s data should not be compared to rates from previous years, such as the 14.84 percent teacher turnover rate reported last year.
Of the 95,549 teachers employed in district and charter schools last year, 8,636 are no longer employed in a North Carolina public school. Nearly 2,250 of these teachers retired with full or partial benefits. Another 662 teachers remained in education. A small number died, concluded their Visiting International Faculty or Teach for America terms, or resigned due to military orders.
The most politically relevant statistic is the number of teachers who said that they resigned to teach in another state. The number of teachers who report leaving to teach in another state dropped significantly since last year. During the 2014-15 school year, 1,028 teachers said that they resigned to teach in another state. According to the State of the Teaching Profession Report, 828 teacher reported that they exited the classroom last year for that reason. Overall, around 0.9 percent of the 95,549 teachers employed in North Carolina between March 2015 and March 2016 chose to resign to teacher elsewhere. In 2015, approximately 1.1 percent of teachers bolted for schools over yonder.
Those on the Left, particularly the demagogues at Progress NC, argue that state-level budgets and policies advanced by Republicans are to blame for the loss. While true for a handful of vocal and politically-active teachers, there is no overwhelming evidence substantiating their claim.
In a review of a sample of the teachers who self-reported that they planned to accept a teaching position in another state this year, I found that 84 percent of obtained full-time employment in a private, charter, or district school in another state or jurisdiction. A number of educators in the sample appeared to use their job experience in North Carolina just to obtain a teaching position in their home state. Others resigned and moved elsewhere following an engagement or marriage. After reviewing the evidence, I urged policymakers to not assume that teachers who accept a position in another state do so because of discontent with state or local education policy. There is often a personal element to the decision that cannot be captured by summary data or addressed by policymakers.
Here is another critical point from the draft 2015-16 State of the Teaching Profession Report that many on the Left will not acknowledge – turnover can be good. According to DPI researchers, “analysis of the effectiveness of teachers who no longer remain employed in NC public schools shows that departing teachers are, on average, less effective than their counterparts who choose to remain employed in NC public schools.” We should want bad teachers to leave and good teachers to stay because it increases the likelihood that public school students receive a quality education.
The report also shows that early career teachers are much more likely to leave the profession to teach in another state or change careers. Raising compensation for these teachers – a priority for the Republican legislature and Governor McCrory – may begin to curb attrition when it is more likely to occur, that is, during the first five years. Obviously, some of these teachers will not be satisfied with their career choice, regardless of improvements in compensation or working conditions. Rather, districts and the state should invest in keeping talented, young teachers in the classroom through financial incentives and pathways to leadership roles in their school and district.
While information and data about teacher turnover are critical elements in creating sound education policy, they can also be used as blunt instruments in the political arena. When the latter drives the former, poor decisions are made and the teaching profession is harmed.