Opinion: Daily Journal

Why Teachers Leave N.C.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ideally, those who want to improve teacher recruitment and retention in North Carolina would have sufficient information about why teachers choose to leave our public schools to teach in another state. Existing separation requirements, however, do not ask employees to provide details about their subsequent career plans or identify factors that motivated them to leave. Without that information, we are left with little more than theories and speculation, which is ideal for politicos and advocacy organizations but useless for policymakers.

Despite these limitations, it is possible to begin filling in the blanks. I obtained the names of the 1,028 public school teachers who resigned from North Carolina public schools in 2015 and self-reported that they planned to accept a teaching position in another state. Because of a lack of resources and a general feeling of creepiness that comes with using the Internet to search for strangers’ personal information, I limited my inquiry to 250 teachers.

The good news is that most of the teachers in the sample are actually employed in another state. Overall, 210 teachers (84 percent) obtained full-time employment in a private, charter, or district school in another state or jurisdiction. Seven educators accepted a teaching job in another country. The remaining 33 teachers pursued other opportunities or failed to find a full-time, permanent teaching position.

For example, one former North Carolina teacher changed careers and is now a copywriter at Belk in Charlotte, while another opened a self-defense studio nearby. A former teacher is a technician at a CVS Pharmacy in Pennsylvania. Two former educators are pursuing advanced degrees. A handful of other teachers are now administrators or substitute teachers, or they remained in North Carolina to teach.

These findings raise legitimate questions about the reliability of self-reported data. That said, I do not suspect that the departing teachers necessarily lied about their intentions to teach in another state. Rather, it is important to remember that personal circumstances change and new opportunities arise, thus altering an individual’s career trajectory.

More telling than the teachers who are working outside of the classroom are those educators who found comparable positions in another state. As one would expect, most former teachers in the sample found jobs in neighboring states, particularly South Carolina or Virginia. Georgia and Florida were popular destinations as well. Curiously, few former teachers in my sample crossed state lines to teach in Tennessee. Overall, these findings suggest that North Carolina policymakers should disregard calls to raise teacher pay to the national average and instead ensure that teacher compensation and working conditions are comparable to other states in the region.

But even regional competitiveness will not be enough of an incentive for some teachers to remain in North Carolina. A number of educators in the sample appeared to use their job experience in North Carolina just to obtain a teaching position in their home state. Others resigned and moved elsewhere following an engagement or marriage. I even encountered a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher who admitted that, despite accepting a similar position in South Carolina, he was “looking to make a career change.”

Indeed, policymakers should not assume that teachers who accept a position in another state do so because of discontent with state or local education policy. There is often a personal element to the decision that cannot be captured by summary data or addressed by elected officials.

The bottom line is that lawmakers and state education officials should continue to improve the collection of teacher attrition data. Until then, we should interpret all statistics with caution. While information and data are a critical element in creating sound education policy, they can also be used as blunt instruments in the political arena. When the latter drives the former, poor decisions are made and the teaching profession is harmed.

Dr. Terry Stoops (@TerryStoops) is Director of Research and Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation.