About 440 fewer teachers left North Carolina’s public schools during the 2021-22 school year than the previous year, improving the state’s overall teacher attrition rate, which had edged up slightly during 2020-21, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak.
Data presented today to the State Board of Education as part of the Department of Public Instruction’s annual report on the state’s teacher workforce showed an attrition rate of 7.78% for the 12-month period between March 2021 and March 2022, a decline of about 0.4% from the 8.2% attrition rate during the previous 12 months, which began with the onset of the pandemic. The state’s attrition rate prior to the pandemic had declined from 9% in 2015-16 to about 7.5% in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
In all, about 7,300 of the state’s 93,832 teachers employed in the state’s public schools (excluding charter schools) in March 2021 were no longer employed in the public schools in March 2022. During the previous 12-month period, 7,735 teachers were reported to have left the state’s public schools.
Among individual school districts, some were reported to have experienced high rates of attrition, resulting from teachers transferring to other districts within the state, which the report characterizes as “mobility.” On average, 3.31% of the state’s teachers changed districts during the same 12-month period, resulting in an average district-level departure rate of about 11%. Yet some districts were reported to have combined attrition rates (including transfers to other districts) above 25%.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said she’s encouraged that the state’s overall attrition rate remained generally stable despite significant disruptions of the pandemic.
“It’s a positive sign that last year’s attrition rate for the state was about on par with what it was before the pandemic,” Truitt said. “It indicates that things are stabilizing following a tremendous period of uncertainty in the 2020-21 school year.”
Truitt also acknowledged that staffing difficulties in some districts caused by a combination of attrition and mobility continue to pose a challenge for local education leaders and for students in those schools.
“It doesn’t reflect an exodus of teachers from the profession,” Truitt said. “But when you take into account that districts must replace the teachers moving to other districts, that often presents a real challenge, especially when districts must find replacement teachers with the right credentials, right experience and the right background.”
She said the proposed Pathways to Excellence initiative, which would overhaul how the state licenses and compensates teachers, would help the ability of all districts to recruit and retain qualified teachers by expanding opportunities for career advancement and higher pay.
Truitt said the Pathways reform is designed also to address attrition rates of early career teachers – those within their first three years – which again last year were higher than the state’s overall attrition rate: 13.06%, compared to 7.78% for all teachers. The attrition rate for beginning teachers has historically always been higher than those teachers with more than three-years of teaching experience.
“It’s imperative that we provide more support for our beginning teachers,” she said. “We have known that the licensure system in place right now does not consistently provide the level of support to those first-, second- and third-year teachers and this data is the latest proof of that. The licensure and compensation reform plan that we’re proposing would help remedy this by building in systems of support for beginning teachers early in their careers and would continue systematically throughout.”
Retirements for the 2021-22 period were down from the previous year: 1,114 teachers retired with full benefits, compared to 1,522 in 2020-21; 360 retired with reduced benefits, compared to 554 in 2020-21.
In addition to attrition data, the report also includes data on vacancies for the 2022-23 school year, as of the 40th day of school, with positions filled by individuals not eligible for permanent employment, including long-term substitutes, retired teachers or provisionally licensed teachers.
Core subjects in elementary schools accounted for the largest number of vacancies, largely because elementary schools outnumber middle and high schools, followed by vacancies for special education teachers for all grades, K-12, as well as positions for math, science and Career and Technical Education.
Longer term staffing needs of schools could be impacted by declining enrollments in the state’s education preparation programs – both for prospective teachers following traditional four-year degree routes and those in alternative programs that enroll college graduates from other fields.
While first-year enrollments in both traditional four-year preparation programs and in residency or alternative programs increased significantly in 2021, enrollments in 2022 dropped from a combined 8,498 candidates in 2021 to 4,941 in 2022.
Traditional, four-year programs saw the steepest decline in first-year enrollments, dropping by more than 50% in 2022 from the previous year, from 5,545 to 2,478. First-year enrollments in alternate program fell from 2,953 to 2,463.
Combined, initial enrollments in educator preparation programs in the state fell to numbers last year comparable to previous lows reported in 2017.