News: CJ Exclusives

Bill Would Require Teachers To Say Why They Are Leaving

Report would help state, local school officials attract and retain best teachers, backers say

A bill that would allow the state to gather more detailed information on why teachers leave the state and the profession — a topic that has become a political football for both parties — is in conference committee as lawmakers attempt to resolve differences in the House and Senate versions.

Senate Bill 333 directs the State Board of Education to “adopt standard procedures for each local board of education to use in requesting the information from teachers who are not continuing to work as teachers in the local school administrative unit.”

It also requires the local school board to report the information to the State Board of Education in a standard format.

“We want to know what’s going on so we can better look at how do we attract and retain our best and highly effective teachers in a school system,” said bill sponsor Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga. The current teacher attrition survey is voluntary, and all information is self-reported.

While the Senate and House passed the bill with no opposition, the House version added an amendment requiring the report to include effectiveness ratings of those teachers as reported in the North Carolina Educator Evaluation System.

The Senate refused to agree with those changes, so a committee of House and Senate members will hash out differences. Soucek urged fellow senators to reject the amended House version, saying a report using effectiveness data in small counties with low turnover might allow specific individuals to be identified, which could violate the confidentiality of that information, and lead to a lawsuit.

Both House and Senate versions would require the annual state report to include six new items:

• The number of teachers who accepted jobs that were unrelated to education, and the reasons the teachers are not remaining in the profession.

• The number of teachers who resigned to teach in other states.

• The number of teachers who accepted jobs at other schools in North Carolina, including nonpublic and charter schools.

• The number of teachers who left a classroom position for another education job.

• The number of hard-to-staff schools identified as low-performing schools. Low-performing schools are defined as those that fail to meet minimum growth standards as defined by the state board and have a majority of students performing below grade level.

• The number of positions in “hard-to-staff subjects” based on either of two definitions: by the official designation from the U.S. Department of Education; and as any subject area in which a district school has been unable to fill a teaching vacancy for at least 16 months.

“For years, the state Department of Public Instruction has collected and categorized teacher turnover data for each school district in the state,” said Terry Stoops, director of education studies and research at the John Locke Foundation.

Stoops said including the evaluation data is important for policymakers and school leaders. “If low-performing teachers are leaving the profession, then there is little cause for concern,” Stoops said. “If public schools cannot retain high-performing teachers, then legislators can respond by enacting laws and policies that strengthen teacher retention, such as expanding performance and incentive pay opportunities.”

As it is currently designed, DPI’s teacher turnover report “is more useful for scoring political points than formulating judicious public policy,” Stoops said. “This bill is a long-needed step in the other direction.”

Teacher pay has come into focus when the annual turnover reports are released. Democrats commonly claim that inadequate compensation is a principal reason teachers leave for other professions or other states. Republicans point to other factors on the annual survey as evidence that pay is not as great a concern as other circumstances.

In the end, those arguments are aired during budget debates and election campaigns.

The political overtones were evident during House Committee on Education K-12 debate on the bill. Democrats repeatedly pushed to include teacher pay as a specific question on the new survey.

“We’re always talking about teacher pay, and that that was one of the reasons why teachers were leaving North Carolina, so I just wanted to make sure that was included in the question of teacher pay, and not being able to provide for a family,” Rep. Tricia Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, said during debate.

“There’s going to be a lot of reasons a teacher is going to list” for leaving a job, said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. But there will be some categories that rank higher than others.

“It seems to me you almost have to, to make it usable, have a functional subset of the categories to say 752 teachers left because of pay, 600 left because their principal didn’t support them,” Glazier said.

“I think that when we start asking specific questions like that there’s no limit to which questions should be asked,” Soucek said. “That’s trying to put a political aspect into what’s being collected. We’re trying to collect data that doesn’t have as much of a political overtone to it.”

The bill as worded is “a cleaner collection of data that’s going to be more useful” than the present survey, he said.

“This simply asks teachers why they are leaving. We don’t need to suggest the answers to them,” said Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said asking teachers directly if pay dissatisfaction caused them to leave their jobs is akin to a lawyer asking leading questions in a courtroom.

“I think some of the things that are being suggested here amount to prompting the witness,” Pittman said.

Dan E. Way (@danway_carolina) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.