About 8.2% of North Carolina teachers were counted as leaving employment in the state’s public schools during the 2020-21 school year, according to a report presented today to the State Board of Education. This represents an increase of only two-thirds of one percentage point from the prior school year, which state education leaders said is a remarkably stable rate in light of the massive disruption forced by COVID-19.
The 8.2% attrition rate for teachers during the 2020-21 school year did tick up from the previous year’s 7.53%, yet was only marginally higher than attrition rates during each of the three previous years beginning in 2017-18, when the attrition rate was 8.1%.
In all, 600 more teachers left teaching jobs in the state in the 12-month span than did the previous year. Of a total 94,328 teachers employed by the state’s public schools, the 8.2 percent rate represents 7,735 teachers who were no longer employed in the teaching profession at the conclusion of the March 2021 reporting period.
Tom Tomberlin, director of Teacher Recruitment and Support for the Department of Public Instruction said that most teachers remained employed by the state’s public schools during the March 2020 to March 2021 school year.
“Generally, teachers in North Carolina are remaining in the classroom, but at a marginally lower rate than observed in the 2017-18 academic year,” Tomberlin told the State Board of Education.
State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said that the report tells a different story than the anecdotal one that suggested teachers were leaving their jobs in large numbers during the first year of the pandemic because of the many challenges they faced..
“To be sure, attrition from the state’s teacher corps remains a concern and a challenge that we must address more aggressively,” Truitt said, “but the numbers for the 2020-21 school year show that the state didn’t see a big surge in teachers leaving the classroom, at least in the first 12 months of the pandemic We’ll be assessing the impact of the second year of the pandemic when we’re able to analyze data from the 2021-22 school year.”
Looking ahead, Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, emphasized that, “while this data from last year may appear to be encouraging, current staffing shortages and a high likelihood of the Great Resignation hitting our schools at the end of this school year, should challenge us all to aggressively launch additional district and state level strategies to retain staff and fill vacancies before the next school year.”
As in past years, a variety of “personal reasons” accounted for the majority of responses teachers gave for their decisions to leave, but the report also indicates a sharp increase in the number and percentage of teachers giving other non-specific or unknown reasons. For 2020-21, those two categories represented 25% of all exiting teacher responses, compared to 7.6% in 2019-20.
“While one cannot infer why these teachers elected to leave employment in North Carolina public schools,” the report says, “one might question whether teachers, who left due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, elected not to provide a reason for their departure. Whatever the reasons are for their departure, teachers who did not select one of the standard responses to the exit survey more than doubled (117.21%) over the prior year.”
Still, among those who indicated specific personal reasons for leaving teaching jobs in the state, the 2020-21 report showed declines from the previous year in several typically high-incidence categories: career change declined from 977 to 689; family relocation, from 746 to 609; teach in another state, from 585 to 462.
Retirements were up only slightly during 2020-21, both among teachers who retired early, with only partial benefits, and those who chose to retire with full benefits, meaning that they had worked at least 30 years.
Among other key findings in the report:
- The report also shows a decline in teacher “mobility” during the 2020-21 school year with fewer teachers from the previous year leaving one district in the state for another, which effectively can compound attrition from individual districts. During the 2020-21 period, the mobility rate, on average, was 2.96%, almost half of the previous year’s mobility rate of 4.94%.
- The attrition rate for beginning teachers (less than three years), is higher than the attrition rate for those not counted as beginning teachers – 9.75% vs. 7.9%. The attrition rate for beginning teachers has historically always been higher than teachers with more than three-years of teaching experience. Despite the 9.75% during the 2020-21 year, beginning teacher attrition has continued to decrease since 2017-18, when it was previously 12.34%.
- Based on vacant teaching positions statewide as of the first and 40th day of school, the highest numbers of vacancies were reported in elementary grades (core areas of math, English language arts, science, social studies), special education across all grade levels and math at the middle and high school levels.