News: CJ Exclusives

Top Reason N.C. Teachers Leave Jobs: Positions In Other N.C. Schools

DPI 'turnover' survey show 60 percent left for job transfers, retirement, relocation

RALEIGH — More teachers are moving to other public schools in the North Carolina system than in the past, and that is the No. 1 reason cited for teacher turnover in 2012-13, according to a state Department of Public Instruction report prepared for the State Board of Education that will be submitted to the General Assembly.

The cover page of the report indicates it was scheduled to be presented to the State Board at its two-day meeting that opens Tuesday. A discussion of report had been on the board’s agenda and the report posted on the board’s website as recently as Thursday.

Sometime between Thursday evening and late Friday afternoon, the item was removed from the agenda and the report from the website. Without explanation, discussion of the report was delayed until the December state board meeting.

Critics of changes made to state education policy by the 2013 General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory — including an end to tenure, an expansion of charter schools, and a program allowing some low-income students to receive a tax-funded scholarship to attend private schools — along with the decision not to provide a raise for public school teachers, cited the moves as part of the justification for the “Moral Monday” protests held at the General Assembly and across the state. The North Carolina Association of Educators and left-leaning groups have claimed that substandard pay and poor working conditions have driven up turnover rates.

But a closer look at the numbers does not back those claims. The state’s 115 school districts reported that 13,291 of 96,419 teachers employed left their teaching positions during the 2012-13 school year, for a 13.78 percent system-level turnover rate, according to the report. That compares to 11,791 teachers leaving their positions in 2011-12, when the turnover rate was 12.13 percent. (See full statistics here.)

Even so, a mere 10 percent of those leaving their jobs cited “dissatisfied with teaching/career change” or “resigned to teach in another state” — 1,325 all told — as their reasons for departing. Six in 10 of the teachers included in the 2012-13 report fell into the categories of job transfers, retirement, or family relocation.

Moreover, the calculations were made based on information available in March 2013, while the current General Assembly session was underway. None of the legislation cited by critics of Republican leaders in Raleigh had become law when the survey was taken.

Of the 13,291 teachers no longer holding the same position, 2,654 of them moved from one public school to another, ending a three-year run of teacher retirements as the top turnover category.

The North Carolina Education Association did not respond to requests for comment.

“I’m glad to know that we’re not losing an overwhelming number of teachers. I want not only to retain the best teachers but attract as many of the best and brightest we can to the teaching profession,” said Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education.

“I want to be optimistic that there won’t be great impacts, but actually the [Republican-passed] legislation, we have to look at what the impacts might be in a year or two from now,” Cobey said Friday.

“I’m trusting that the legislature will try to increase compensation for all teachers. I hate to be anti-competitive, especially with our neighboring counties” in bordering states, he said. “I’m trusting and believing that the legislature will address compensation issues (in a succeeding session) and that what has happened will have a minimal impact.”

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson said turnover rates are important indicators of various trends, including student achievement.

As a general rule, “You tend to see the school districts having chronic low-performing students as being the school districts having the highest turnover rates,” Atkinson said in a telephone interview Friday.

There are several trend lines in the report that are “concerning” and bear scrutiny, including the number of tenured teachers leaving their positions, she said. Of the 13,291 teachers reported leaving, 6,254 were tenured.

“You see that in 2009-10 it was at 37 percent and this past year [tenured] teachers leaving went to 47 percent,” Atkinson said. She believes that reflects the number of Baby Boomer teachers nearing retirement.

“My question is will we have the people graduating from our universities who will be willing to take a teaching job to fill those vacant positions” as Baby Boomers continue to age out of their jobs, she said.

Region 8 in the western part of the state consistently has had the least turnover of any region in the state.

“When you look at that trend line, you see that that percentage leaving in the western part of the state is increasing, and again I think the number of Baby Boomers we have in the western part of the state is a factor,” Atkinson said.

“We are having fairly stagnant teacher salaries in our state,” she said, and that could be causing the high number of teachers leaving one district to teach in another “because some school districts are able to pay higher [local] supplements than others.”

“What was interesting to me about it is [the current report] was not a whole lot different from 2008-09,” Lindalyn Kakadelis, director of the North Carolina Education Alliance, said of this year’s report. “Bottom line is, you had 695 more that left this year than 2008-2009, so there was no huge change over the trendline that we’ve seen.”

Anyone blaming this year’s legislative action for having a negative impact on teachers in the current turnover report “is not looking at the data,” she said. “You had 1,000 more than last year who just moved to another LEA [local education agency, or school district].”

If this year’s General Assembly’s actions have an impact, “we would see it in the 2013-14 school year. It’s going to show up with people leaving this current school year, not last school year,” Kakadelis said.

She said the report details a growing number of teachers leaving traditional public schools for charter schools, from 49 to 143 year-over-year.

“Teachers are looking at going to charter schools as a viable option,” Kakadelis said.

Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said “it is misleading to call this a ‘turnover’ report. It is more accurate to call it a teacher turnover and transfer report. In fact, 20 percent of what the state classifies as ‘teacher turnover’ consisted of teachers moving from one school district to another,” Stoops said.

“There was a sizable uptick in the number of teachers who accepted a teaching position in another North Carolina public school or moved to a non-teaching position in education,” he added, an increase of more than 50 percent in those categories.

“That suggests that more teachers are finding new and better opportunities within the current public school system,” Stoops said.

“While some contend that North Carolina teachers are heading for the exits, this year’s turnover report tells a different story. Only 6.6 percent of the teachers who left the profession during the 2012-13 school year did so because they were dissatisfied with teaching or decided to change careers,” Stoops said.

Moreover, only 3.4 percent of the state’s departing teachers resigned to teach in another state.

“Obviously, these teachers may have decided to resign regardless of state, local, and federal policy initiatives,” Stoops said.

“There is very little that anyone can do to mitigate teacher turnover because most of these decisions are often based on personal or family circumstances that are beyond the control of administrators or elected officials,” he said.

The turnover report provides “a very limited amount of information” about a small percentage of current and former teachers, Stoops said. “As such, it is irresponsible to use it to draw conclusions about the state of the teaching profession in North Carolina.”

While there likely will be much talk about the statewide rate, individual district rates are much more relevant, he said, noting “significant variations” in teacher turnover and transfer among the 115 school districts.

Mt. Airy had the lowest district turnover rate, 3.3 percent. Northampton County had the highest turnover rate in the state, more than 35 percent.

“These variations suggest that turnover and transfer are much more dependent on local conditions than state or federal policy,” Stoops said.

Nor does teacher turnover and transfer appear to be correlated with teacher salary, he said.

“The district with the highest teacher salary supplement in the state, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, had a rate of 17.6 percent last year. On the other hand, Clay County provides no salary supplement to their teachers but registered a rate of 8.9 percent,” Stoops said.

Cobey believes improving instructional quality and keeping the best teachers in the classroom are tied to compensation.

“That speaks to, at some point in time, creating a ladder or pathway for teachers so that the most outstanding can be given more responsibility in mentoring and leadership, and stay in the classroom and teaching, and don’t feel like they have to go into administration to get pay raises,” Cobey said.

Some education observers believe there will be fallout over the legislature ending pay increases for teachers who earn a master’s degree.

“I think the legislature will come back and won’t reinstitute the same master pay plan, but I believe they’re going to come back and reinstitute increased compensation for teachers that get a master’s degree in their subject areas, for example,” Cobey said.

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