More teachers left their posts last year—significantly more than the previous year, according to a report released yesterday.
The report  released by the Department of Public Instruction found that last year’s teacher turnover rate in North Carolina saw a significant increase—and the highest rate over the last five years.
Between March 2012 and March 2013, approximately 13,616 teachers left their districts, at a rate of 14.33 percent. In 2011-12, that rate was 12.13 percent.
Teachers who left their districts did so for a variety of reasons, including retirement, to teach elsewhere, family relocation, or dissatisfaction with teaching, among other categories.
The consequences of last summer’s raft of legislative changes affecting the teaching profession—including another year of frozen salaries, the discontinuation of supplemental pay for advanced degrees, and the end of teacher tenure—were not reflected in this report, leaving many to wonder what this year’s numbers will look like next fall.
More teachers with tenure leaving their jobs
In 2008-09, only 35.55 percent of teachers who had tenure, also known as “career status,” left their jobs. That percentage has steadily risen and last year nearly half (49.35%) of all of those who left their positions were tenured teachers.
Mooresville Graded School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Edwards said it’s important to consider the fact that the state will see large numbers of baby boomers retiring during the next five years or so.
“We need to recruit people to stay,” said Edwards to his colleagues at this month’s State Board of Education meeting in Raleigh.
North Carolina ranks 46th in the nation in teacher pay. It takes 15 years for a teacher to make about $40,000 a year.
Last summer, state lawmakers decided to stop funding the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, which awards scholarships to North Carolina high school students to pursue teaching degrees in state. Graduates then must teach for four years in North Carolina. More than 75 percent of Teaching Fellows teach in the state beyond five years, and many stay on for their entire careers.
Lawmakers took some of the money designated for the Teaching Fellows program and put it toward expanding the state’s presence of Teach For America (TFA), a national program designed to place graduates without degrees in education in teaching posts that are in low-performing schools.
TFA teachers are only required to stay in their positions for two years, and their retention rate beyond that time period is low—less than 10 percent.
Eric Guckian, Gov. Pat McCrory’s education advisor and TFA alum, told Board members this week that there is no doubt that North Carolina faces a crisis with regard to paying and retaining good teachers.
More teachers leave due to dismissal than is obvious
The teacher turnover report indicates that 17 teachers were dismissed, 87 resigned in lieu of dismissal, and 33 were laid off.
“It’s difficult to estimate how many teachers actually faced the possibility of dismissal,” said Lynne Johnson, director of Educator Effectiveness with DPI. “Teachers facing dismissal can also cite ‘dissatisfaction with teaching,’ ‘other reasons,’ or ‘unknown reasons.’”
Even though 17 teachers were officially dismissed, many more could have had the opportunity to resign or move into different positions instead of going through the termination process.
Lawmakers have used the low number of teachers reported as fired as a reason to take away teacher tenure and move teachers into a temporary contract system—making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.
But critics of the contracts say that most teachers who do not perform well are encouraged to leave rather than outright fired, distorting the data available to decision makers.
Inconsistencies in the turnover data reported by local school districts to the Department of Public Instruction delayed this year’s report and prompted questions about how to improve it going forward.
“We need to refine the various reasons for leaving. There tends to be overlap, often creating a misunderstanding of why teachers are leaving. We need more clarity,” said State Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine.
Moving to teacher contracts
State Board of Education members approved a model teacher contract  for local school districts to use in place of teacher tenure.
The model contract, which was designed to offer local school boards maximum flexibility in the development of their own district-specific contracts, would offer teachers 1-, 2- or 4-year terms of employment without any due process rights in the event they are demoted or dismissed.
Indiana and Mississippi’s teacher contracts were used as benchmarks for the North Carolina version.
If the legislature acts next spring to offer teachers raises, the language in the teacher contract is worded in such a way that lawmakers’ actions would not void contracts already in force.
The 4-year contracts are to be awarded next year to the top 25 percent of teachers in the state. Those contracts also come with $500 annual bonuses for each of the four years.
Mooresville Superintendent Edwards expressed concern over the new contracts.
“We need to work with all stakeholders to improve the framework for compensating our teachers,” he said. “In Mooresville, 95 percent of teachers would be considered top performing and eligible for the 4-year contracts. Are we going to ignore all of those great teachers who somehow don’t make the cut?”
“We have huge concerns and heartache over this issue [the teacher contracts]. I think the teacher contracts are problematic and it’s not a good return on investment,” said Edwards.
Edwards was also concerned about the effect the 4-year contracts would have on teacher collaboration.
Guilford County third grade teachers Kelly Dyson and Danielle Tefft recently gave their thoughts on the new contract system to NC Policy Watch.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Tefft, who has taught third grade for 17 years.
Dyson, who is in her tenth year of teaching, said it scares her to think about losing career status. Fortunately E.P. Pearce Elementary, in Greensboro, was the top performing elementary school in the district last year, and Dyson said that luckily, the school environment is very trusting of its teachers. There’s a real collegial spirit amongst everyone.
Asked if they will accept 4-year contracts if they are offered them?
“No, I will not,” said Tefft, shaking her head.
“No,” said Dyson.
Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or [email protected] .