By A.P. Dillon
Narratives in public education in North Carolina are many these days in the media. Case in point: the teacher shortage and teacher pay narratives making their way across various counties and weaving through the news cycle.
An article that appeared earlier this fall at WRAL claimed the lack of a teacher in a single classroom, in a single school in Chatham County, was due to a “shortage of public school teachers across the Triangle:”
PITTSBORO, N.C. — A shortage of public school teachers across the Triangle has left one fifth-grade classroom in Chatham County without a steady instructor, and many parents worried.
The first day at Perry Harrison Elementary in Pittsboro was six weeks ago, but there is still no teacher for Krista Millard’s son.
“He really wants a teacher,” she said.
Millard said her son’s class has had at least five different substitutes since August. Along with subs, other teachers and the principal have stepped in to assist.
First, one has to ask what the administration of the school had been doing – or rather hadn’t been doing – if this fifth-grade class was six weeks into the school year with no regular teacher?
A quick trip to the Chatham County Schools website showed that on 7/26/15 a job posting for a position at Perry Harrison Elementary was put up, with a closing date of 8/18/15. So, the administration at the school knew it had a hole in staffing in July and that lasted into October?
Second, claims made in the article appear to be one supposition playing off of another. For the sake of argument, let’s work with one of the assumptions made in the article by taking a look at pay being the reason this 5th grade classroom has no instructor.
WRAL’s article tied this teacher shortage in Chatham to a supposed low teacher pay – but teacher pay has been increased over the last two years, including the reinstatement of teacher compensation step-increases that had been frozen under former Gov. Bev Perdue.
Examining the claim made in the WRAL article made by a Chatham County school official regarding the county raising the supplemental pay this year, it’s a reasonable assumption the news story would mention how much that increase was, but it didn’t.
According to the Department of Public Instruction’s own statistical information, for the 2014-15 school year, the average supplemental pay for teachers in Chatham county was $4,007, and records also show that all of teachers in that county took advantage of the supplement.
That supplement level amount made Chatham the 11th-highest paying district for teacher supplements. Chapel-Hill Carrboro was number one with an average of $6,982 as their supplement, of which all of the teachers in the district took advantage.
It’s reasonable to perhaps assume that maybe pay might not be the issue in this specific case of this single classroom in a single Chatham county school. What could be another reason?
According to the Teacher Turnover report produced recently by the Department of Public Instruction, Chatham County’s overall turnover rate was 12.76 percent, putting it at about the middle of the pack. That’s not far off from Chatham’s five-year turnover rate average of 12.53 percent.
Clearly, their turnover has been a consistent issue, yet here we have the WRAL story linking a single missing instructor in Chatham County to a “Triangle teacher shortage.” WRAL supplies no source for this claim of a “Triangle teacher shortage” either.
Looking at statewide statistics, as Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation recently did, one sees that North Carolina is approving teacher licenses to out-of-state applicants at a higher rate than teachers are exiting.
Stoops notes an uptick in the granting of out-of-state licenses over the last few years and, in 2013-14, there were 1,251 more out-of-state teacher licenses granted than there were teachers who left North Carolina. It’s evident from this information that perhaps teacher shortage isn’t quite accurate, at least when applied statewide.
Turning back to the “Triangle shortage” specifically, it’s worth noting that in the 2014-15 school year, Triangle school districts had some of the top teacher supplemental pay rates in the state.
Last month, Wake County Schools made the decision to raise that pay even higher. According to the News and Observer, the raises could be anywhere from $875 to $3,202 and affect all of the 10,000-plus teachers in the district.
Here are the top-five paying districts and their corresponding district level turnover rates for 2014-15 as reported by DPI:
- Chapel-Hill/Carrboro: Supplement: $6,892 /Turnover: 18.58%
2. Charlotte Mecklenburg: Supplement: $6,632 / Turnover: 16.49%
3. Wake: Supplement: $5,994 / Turnover: 13.31%
4. Durham: Supplement: $5,494 / Turnover: 20.43%
5. Orange: Supplement: $5,197 / Turnover: 16.10%
Logically, if pay were the main underlying issue, wouldn’t the top-paying districts have lower turnover rates? This doesn’t seem to be the case, however.
The five-year rates for Triangle area districts tell a similar story.
|Turnover 2010-2011 (%)
|Turnover 2011-2012 (%)
|Turnover 2012-2013 (%)
|Turnover 2013-2014 (%)
|Turnover 2014-2015 (%)
|Five Year Average (%)
|Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
|Durham Public Schools
|Orange County Schools
|Wake County Schools
What would be useful for a clearer picture would be a look at the number of vacancies and the number of hires per district to accompany the DPI turnover report. This would offer a deeper look at the specific reasons and categories for coming to or leaving each individual district. Information such as this should be considered before declaring a “teacher shortage” in the Triangle or elsewhere.