North Carolina is losing too many teachers

December 8, 2013 

Last year, North Carolina attained one rating it didn’t want: Teacher turnover hit a five-year high. Just over 14 percent of the state’s teachers left their positions, which was a 2 percent increase from the previous year. There is no single reason, so it wouldn’t be fair to ring the panic button and scream that teachers are leaving in droves because of money or the antics of the Republicans in the General Assembly, who made public education and public school teachers targets in the last legislative session.

There now are indications, with talk by Gov. Pat McCrory and some lawmakers about raising teacher pay, that the GOP leaders are aware that in taking on teachers, they might have made a big strategic goof.

But although teachers leave for a variety of reasons, there is some significance here in the fact that the number of teachers who said they were leaving because they wanted to change careers or were dissatisfied did go up considerably, from 541 in the 2008-09 school year to 887 last year. And early retirements are up, from 228 in 2008-09 to 574 last year.

So we know that there are indeed more teachers who are bailing out for all the reasons feared. The state, which once aspired to hit the national average in teacher pay and stay there, now is at 46th. That is not a formula for contentment or for longevity in the profession.

Republicans took away teacher tenure with a planned phase-out. There goes another incentive for teachers to stay in the game. GOP lawmakers also moved to end pay hikes that used to go with the attainment of advanced degrees.

Republicans were angry that some in the North Carolina Association of Educators had criticized cuts to public education, and because the GOP rules on Jones Street, its members were able to punish teachers with actions that let them know just how little lawmakers respected them.

But teachers and parents have reacted, and Republicans now may have to do something that’s actually positive for those who labor long and hard in the state’s public schools. Sadly, though, any raise is likely to be paltry, and at 46th in the country, paltry isn’t going to make enough of a difference.

How legislators could believe their actions would not have consequences is mind-boggling.

Why would a qualified teacher, with a good academic background and with, or en route to, national certification, want to teach in a state where pay was low and overall public investment was inadequate?

Why would such a teacher stay in such a state if there were opportunities in neighboring and other states that would provide potential salaries of a much higher level?

North Carolina needs to address low teacher pay and the reduction of other expenditures not as a patchwork project year to year, but as a crisis waiting to happen, one that will find the state woefully short of qualified teachers at the beginning of a school year, likely a year coming soon.

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