The State Board of Education received the 2016-17 State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina report last week. The report summarizes the attrition and mobility of public school teachers between March 2016 and March 2017. One of the exciting features of the report (for me at least) is that it also includes teacher vacancy data for the current school year.
Of the nearly 95,000 teachers employed in 2016, approximately 8,200 are no longer working in a North Carolina public school. Last year’s 8.7 percent attrition rate is an improvement compared to the previous year, which exceeded 9.0 percent. Another 4.8 percent of teachers moved to another public school in the state.
According to the report, much of the state’s teacher attrition is due to personal reasons or is beyond the control of the school district or state. Retirement was the top reason why people left their teaching position last year. Nearly one in five teachers who resigned last year did so to retire with full benefits. Family relocation, unknown reasons, career change, and teaching in another state round out the top five. Dismissals, compelled resignations, and reductions in force appear to be rare.
While some may find teacher attrition to be worrisome, N.C. Department of Public Instruction researchers found that teachers who leave are less effective than those who remain. They write,
On average, teachers who leave employment with the state have lower teaching effectiveness (as measured by EVAAS index scores) than their counterparts who remain employed in NC public schools. This relationship holds true when departing teaches are compared with remaining teachers in terms of years of teaching experience.
Simply put, not all attrition is bad. We should want bad teachers to leave and better teachers to remain. It is worth questioning, however, if we are doing enough to retain our best. I think the state and school districts need to do more for them.
The statewide vacancy rate on the 40th instructional day for 107 school districts was 1.5 percent. (A few districts submitted data with inconsistencies, so they were omitted.) Anson, Hyde, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank, Martin, and Craven counties had the highest vacancy rates, and 12 districts reported zero teaching vacancies. Core elementary teachers, special education teachers in elementary schools, and high school math teachers had the highest number of vacancies.
The state defines a vacancy as “an instructional position (or a portion thereof) for which there is not an appropriately licensed teacher who is eligible for permanent employment.” They count long-term substitutes, retired teachers, and provisionally licensed teachers as vacancies. One should not assume that a temporary teacher is necessarily worse than an “appropriately licensed teacher,” particularly if the district hires a retired teacher to address a vacancy. That said, research suggests that long-term substitutes and provisionally licensed teachers often struggle in the classroom.
So, does North Carolina have a teacher recruitment and retention crisis? The statewide figures and trends are not cause for concern, but the answer, as usual, depends on the school district. For example, some rural districts continue to struggle to recruit and retain outstanding educators, while others have single-digit turnover. North Carolina’s wealthiest districts have attrition and vacancy rates that are comparable to low-income districts. As usual, socioeconomic factors are a necessary but not sufficient explanation for teacher attrition, mobility, or vacancy rates.
The absence of simple explanations for why teachers choose to leave the teaching profession complicates the process of developing a public policy response. Additional pay for hard-to-staff subjects and schools may be one place to start. It is less dependent on test scores than labor market conditions, and I find that most teachers are receptive to the idea. Indeed, it is much harder to recruit a math teacher to teach in Bertie County than hire a social studies teacher to teach in Wake County, and that difference should inform an incentive pay system.