Last week, NCDPI presented to the State Board of Education its report 2020-2021 State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina. This annual report describes trends in teaching from March 2020 through March 2021. Widely reported was the finding that the overall state attrition rate for 2020-21 is 8.20%, only slightly higher than the rates for the previous three years.
However, a key element of the report is its timeframe. It captures teacher attrition data only through March 2021, leaving out the remaining months in SY20-21 and the summer months when teachers may seek other employment. As a result, the report fails to capture a true picture of teacher attrition for the full school year last year and gives the perception that NC’s teacher shortage isn’t as extreme as it truly is.
There have been numerous reports describing the crisis situation in teacher staffing this school year, with record staffing shortages at the beginning of the school year, and more resignations so far this year than ever before. COVID added unprecedented stress on school systems, leading Governor Cooper to encourage state employees to use volunteer hours to help staff schools.
If our elected leaders wait to take action until the 2021-22 State of the Teaching Profession report comes out detailing the shortages being reported right now, it will be far too late.
The 2020-21 report breaks down attrition rates according to teacher category. Teach for America teachers had by far the highest attrition rate, with 29.6% leaving before their contracted term was complete. Visiting International Faculty (VIF) had the lowest rate, at 5%.
Experienced, licensed teachers had the next lowest rate (7.9%) followed by beginning teachers (9.75%) and lateral entry teachers (13.0%). With a consistent teaching force as a goal, it makes good sense to put effort into developing licensed teachers, supporting them through their beginning years, and paying them well so they stay in the profession. Programs such as Teach for America are poor substitutes for solidly trained teachers who will remain in the classroom and develop into high-quality teachers.
Did you know…
- In 2011 the NC General Assembly cut the nationally acclaimed Teacher Fellows Program, a program that had been a major source of high-quality NC teachers for more than 2 decades?
- In the next budget cycle, the NC General Assembly allocated $5.1 million dollars to fund the expansion of Teach for America in NC, bringing the program’s total funding to more than $6 million.
- In 2017, the NC General Assembly reinstated a limited version of the Teaching Fellows Program at less than one-third the scope of the original program.
- In 2021, with a massive budget surplus, the NC General Assembly slightly expanded the Teaching Fellows Program. It is now approved for 8 schools, far short of the 17 in the original program and there are too few fellowships being awarded.
In the upcoming short session, slated to begin in earnest on May 18th, the NC General Assembly should move to expand the Teaching Fellows Program to MORE than its original size. The current teacher pipeline crisis deserves no less.
The NCDPI report points to more issues that require immediate action. While the average teacher attrition from the NC teaching force was 8.2%, some teachers moved from one district (LEA) in NC to another within the state. The state average for this across-LEA mobility was 2.96%. Adding the rate of teachers leaving teaching in NC completely to those moving from one LEA to another brings the state’s overall attrition for LEAs to 11.6%.
However, this rate varies widely across the state, ranging from 34.8% for Northampton County Schools to 3.5% for Elkin City Schools. The majority of LEAs with the highest attrition rate are low wealth schools, already at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to recruit and retain teachers. Maintaining a high-quality teaching force is essential for consistent student learning; high attrition rates reduce the likelihood that students will receive a quality educational experience. These disparities are exactly what fully funding Leandro would help address.
Connecting the dots, the messages in the report are clear:
- Fund teacher preparation programs such as the Teaching Fellows Program that produce licensed teachers who are more likely to stay in the profession and become high-quality teachers.
- Fund all provisions of the Leandro plan to help reduce teacher attrition at low-wealth schools (among many other benefits).
- Increase teacher salaries at all levels of experience and restore longevity and Masters pay to retain our current teaching pool.
- Create a variety of incentives for college students to become educators targeted at recruiting educators in rural and low-wealth school districts/schools.
What is your legislator doing to reduce teacher attrition in our public schools? How are they ensuring a high-quality education for all children? Ask your legislator!