How many teachers are leaving North Carolina’s public schools?

A teacher writes the schedule for the day on her blackboard.
A teacher writes the schedule for the day on her blackboard. News & Observer file photo

Fewer North Carolina public school teachers left their jobs last year, but more educators moved to work in other school districts or charter schools in the state.

A new draft state report on teacher employment released this week shows that 8.65 percent of North Carolina public school teachers left the profession last school year, down from 9 percent the prior year. At the same time, 4.8 percent of teachers left their districts to work in other public schools in the state, up from 4.36 percent the previous year.

The overall state teacher attrition rose slightly from 13.4 percent to 13.45 percent last year. That means 12,750 teachers either quit teaching in North Carolina’s public schools or decided to work elsewhere in the state.

“I’d love to see this state engage in a conversation that says here’s our five or 10-year plan to make the teaching profession in North Carolina the best in America, and then a lot of this data (in the report) will kind of go away on us,” State Board of Education member Wayne McDevitt said at Wednesday’s meeting.

The new report from the state Department of Public Instruction comes amid the continuing political fight over teacher turnover. Democrats claim teachers are leaving because of low pay and lack of respect. Republicans say the talk of a mass exodus of unhappy teachers is overblown.

The Republican-led state legislature has raised teacher pay over the last several years, particularly for less-experienced educators. The higher pay has also come with changes such as not giving newer teachers extra pay for advanced degrees or letting them receive career status, popularly called tenure.

“We should continue to be alarmed that nearly one in 10 teachers leave the classroom each year, and the rates are even higher for beginning teachers who recently received modest salary increases to attract them to the profession,” Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, said in a statement. “Not enough is being done to retain our educators.”

A report released in 2015 said 14.8 percent of teachers left their positions, the highest rate in five years. But state officials say the last two years can’t be compared to prior years because of changes in how the data is recorded and collected.

The latest report shows that 8,201 teachers were no longer teaching in the state’s public schools between March 2016 and March 2017. The top reasons for the resignations were:

▪ Retirement with full benefits – 1,533

▪ Family relocation – 1,006

▪ Unknown reasons – 949

▪ Career change –865

▪ Resigned to teach in another state – 767

The new report also shows several school districts in the northern part of the state, where there are high concentrations of poverty, have a hard time holding on to teachers.

More than a quarter of the teachers in the Halifax County school district either left state employment or moved to another district in North Carolina last year. The situation was worse in Weldon City Schools, which lost nearly a third of its teachers.

The N.C. Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit over whether the Halifax County Board of Commissioners is providing enough funding to the three separate school districts in the county, which also includes the Weldon City and Roanoke Rapids school districts. The N.C. Court of Appeals had ruled that counties are not responsible for providing the funding to ensure the state constitutional guarantee of a “sound basic education” for all students.

Locally, the overall attrition rate, which includes resignations and teachers leaving to work in other districts, varied widely. It was 18.9 percent in Durham, 14.2 percent in Orange County, 13.9 percent in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, 11.9 percent in Wake County and 10.1 percent in Johnston County.

The report also contains information for the first time on teacher vacancies. While school districts overall reported vacancy rates of 1.5 percent, Tom Tomberlin, DPI director of educator human capital policy and research, said that has a major impact on students in those classes.

In some districts, the teacher vacancy rate was more than 10 percent as late as two months into the school year. State board member Tricia Willoughby said vacancy rates like that will hurt the state’s ability to help the students who need it the most.

“It’s disturbing when you see vacancy rates of 10 to 11 percent,” she said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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