Teacher attrition is certainly one indicator of frustration. Last Wednesday, the State Board of Education received a new report on teacher attrition in North Carolina. The report highlighted an attrition rate of 7.5 percent. That figure is derived by dividing the number of teachers who choose not to return to their jobs, 7,115, by the number of public-school teachers in North Carolina (94,672). Of the seven thousand plus teachers who no longer teach in North Carolina Public schools, almost sixty percent (58.3 percent) cite “personal reasons” as the reason for leaving. It should be noted that it’s the fourth consecutive decline in teacher attrition. In 2015-16, teacher attrition was 9.1 percent. Since then it’s declined to 8.7 (2016-17), 8.1 (2017-18) and now 7.5 (2018-19). Figures prior to 2015-16 are not included because of changes in how teacher attrition was calculated.
These patterns don’t seem to support the dominant narrative about growing teacher frustration.
High attrition rates make for compelling arguments for smaller class size, higher teacher pay more education spending. But how high are teacher attrition rates? The 2019 Department of Labor Job Openings and Labor Turnover lists openings, hiring and separations by industry as well as a labor turnover by industry. What did we find? Education had some of the lowest – if not the lowest turnover by industry. In a 2017 article, veteran teacher union watcher Mike Antonucci, tried to give a little perspective to the issue by comparing teacher attrition to other industries. According to a Linked-In analysis of half-a-billion professionals the jobs with the highest turnover were in technology, media, and retail. According to the Learning Policy Institute, the US teacher attrition rate is about 8 percent. That’s high when you compare it to other countries like Singapore or Finland whose rates are around 3 or 4 percent – and some of the lowest in the world.
Any country, however, would have a teacher attrition problem when compared to those nations. Moreover, considering the demographic and cultural differences between the countries you must wonder if it’s even valid to compare the US with either Finland or Singapore.
Of course, we’re not saying things are perfect in the teaching profession. There are challenges that must be addressed to keep the profession attractive. Keeping teacher attrition in perspective is one way that will help us resolve them.