There’s been a lot of speculation about why public school teachers leave their current positions, and that speculation is usually the source of a lot of rancorous political spin in social media, on blogs, and in the press — especially around election time.
Teacher “turnover” data is often used by partisans on the left to give weight to their deeper political agenda: defeating anyone with an “R” next to his or her name. Alarm bells sound from well-funded non-partisan left-wing think tanks, which are then quoted in stories the mainstream media, which are then cited in campaign mailers. “The data proves teachers are leaving because they are underpaid and underappreciated!” goes the mantra. “Further proof that Republicans are anti-education!”
A few of the countless examples include:
- The looming teacher shortage that the General Assembly made worse
- Is North Carolina a net exporter of teachers?
- Teacher exodus provokes growing alarm
- Fears Of Mass Teacher Exodus Stirred By New North Carolina Report
To read the “news,” you’d think that North Carolina was hemorrhaging teachers — when, in fact, North Carolina’s teacher turnover rate is actually below the national average. For the 2012-2013 school year, it was 14.3 percent — compared to an average of 15.8 percent nationwide. And a recent survey by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) showed that of those teachers who did “turnover” in North Carolina, the vast majority went to teach in other public schools within the North Carolina public school system.1
There are other reasons as well for turnover besides teachers seeking different teaching jobs, such as retirement and individual family circumstances. (For a thorough analysis of the reasons for teacher turnover, please read this piece from the Albert Shanker Institute.)
In fact, North Carolina’s teacher turnover rate decreased in 2013-2014 from 2012-2013, and that’s before last year’s historic teacher pay raises took effect. And although this year’s state budget has not yet been finalized, leaders in the General Assembly have committed to giving starting teachers a $2,000 raise. The House’s budget goes even further, giving all teachers a salary increase on top of the pay raises they received just last year. Although it’s too early to tell, it’s not unreasonable to assume these pay raises will bring the turnover number down even more.
“There is simply no evidence that teachers are leaving the profession as a direct result of North Carolina Republican policies,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, Director of Research and Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. “While a handful of teachers expressed displeasure with the direction of public education in the state, most of them quietly moved on to jobs that could better meet their expectations and abilities.”
The claims of massive teacher turnover simply cannot be supported by the data currently being collected by DPI.
The problem seems to originate in the data collection process itself. That’s because, oddly enough, no one is asking teachers specifically why they are moving on — nor is the data that is collected being separated into very useful categories. Teachers resigning and taking new teaching jobs in other North Carolina school districts are counted as “teachers leaving their jobs” — because DPI itself counts “movers” and “leavers” as turnover.
“The teacher turnover survey instrument used by the DPI provides the 10,000-foot-view of the issue,” continued Dr. Stoops. “We still have little idea why teachers choose to leave their current school or the profession entirely. Those who fail to appreciate the multiple facets of employee turnover are using the numbers for political gain.”
Here’s how survey information is collected and reported now: Each school district (called a local educational agency or LEA) reports teacher turnover data for DPI’s North Carolina School Report Card. This data is calculated based on a snapshot of employment in the LEA as reflected in the DPI’s salary database. This snapshot shows teachers who were employed in March of the previous year, but not employed in the same LEA in March of the current year. You can see how the current process leaves out a lot of critical information and exposes it to misinterpretation.
Senate Bill 333, signed into law last month, will introduce more honesty into the data collection process and bring far more clarity to the problem of incomplete and generalized data. The bipartisan legislation requires that the State Board of Education’s Annual Report on the teaching profession now include:
- Data on the number of teachers who left the profession without remaining in the field of education and the reasons why the teachers are not remaining in the profession;
- The number of teachers who left the teaching profession to teach in other states;
- The number of teachers who left their employment to work in another school in North Carolina, including nonpublic and charter schools;
- The number of teachers who left a classroom position for another type of educational position;
- The number of hard-to-staff schools, as identified as a low performing school. Under current law, low performing schools are those in which there is a failure to meet the minimum growth standards (as defined by the State Board of Education) and a majority of students are performing below grade level; and
- The number of positions in hard-to-staff subject areas as either (1) defined by the United States Department of Education or (2) a subject area that has resulted in a long term vacancy of 16 months or more at a particular school in an LEA.
As it’s currently designed, DPI’s teacher turnover report “is more useful for scoring political points than formulating judicious public policy,” Dr. Stoops concluded. “This bill is a long-needed step in the other direction.”
Senate Bill 333 passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on June 29, 2015. The new law will take effect beginning with the State Board of Education’s 2017 Annual Report, using data from the 2016-2017 school year. That means we can probably look forward to one more election cycle of fear mongering from the left — regarding teacher turnover, at least.
- Carolina Journal, “Top Reason N.C. Teachers Leave Jobs: Positions In Other N.C. Schools”