by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Yesterday afternoon, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) sent a message to DPI staff and school superintendents. Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson encouraged recipients to forward the following email to their employees and staff:
Weekly Message to Superintendents: Monday, Nov. 3, 2014
This week the State Board of Education will receive the annual report describing teacher turnover patterns through March of the 2013-14 school year. This report receives heightened scrutiny along with widespread concerns about teacher pay, teacher satisfaction and staffing shortages in some specialties and regions. While the turnover rate improved slightly in 2013-14, more than 5,000 teachers left because of dissatisfaction with teaching, to teach in another state, to change careers or to retire early with reduced benefits. Lawmakers did begin work this year to address the concerns of low teacher pay, but we still have much work to do to give teachers respect for their work and the key role they play for our state’s future. I also want to point out that the report listed 1,123 teachers who left because they were terminated, resigned in lieu of non-renewal or dismissal, did not obtain/maintain their license or were not rehired at the end of their probationary contract. While this is a small percentage of all teachers in North Carolina, it does show that school districts do dismiss teachers who are poor performers or for whom teaching is not the best professional fit.
The email touches on three familiar themes: 1) Teachers are leaving. 2) Teachers are paid poorly. 3) Teachers are not respected.
Recently, mainstream media outlets have disseminated stories highlighting those themes as well. Last week, for example, WSOC “investigated” teachers leaving North Carolina to teach in Houston, TX. Unfortunately, it was not much of an investigation. The reporter did not reveal anything new. She also misidentified Houston ISD’s superintendent. His name is Terry Grier, not Andrew Grier.
I am not saying that the email and WSOC story are part of some Blueprint NC-type plan to regurgitate an anti-Republican narrative right before an election that features several high-profile Republican legislators, referendums to increase local taxes for public schools, and proposed bonds for school construction.
I am also not saying that DPI should have waited to address this issue later this week, that is, after the teacher turnover report was discussed and approved by the N.C. State Board of Education.
Finally, I do not want to suggest that teacher compensation, recruitment, and retention are irrelevant. There has been a renewed interest in those important issues since late 2010.
My biggest worry is about perception. Some folks believe that the timing of DPI’s email, WSOC’s investigative report, and other recent media musings about North Carolina teachers appear to be attempts to influence the electorate. This appearance of partisanship is troublesome because public-spirited politicians, service-oriented government employees, and an objective media are bulwarks of a strong Republic. Thank goodness we have all three in North Carolina.