Commentary

Important lessons for avoiding a teacher shortage in North Carolina

An important new report from the Learning Policy Institute examines national trends in the supply and demand of teachers to warn of a growing national teacher shortage. Across the country, declining enrollments in schools of education, high teacher turnover, increasing K-12 enrollment, and district efforts to return to pre-recession pupil-teacher ratios are leading to teacher shortages estimated to reach 112,000 teachers by 2018.

The national trends contributing to teacher shortages are all evident in North Carolina. North Carolina has experienced an over 30% decline in enrollments at UNC schools of education and teacher preparation programs. Declining enrollment in education programs is a national trend, but North Carolina’s undergraduate enrollment decline exceeds the national trend.  From 08-09 to 14-15, North Carolina had the 12th largest decrease in the nation in undergraduate enrollment in education programs. Survey data from the ACT exam also indicates that North Carolina high school students are losing interest in entering the teaching profession at a faster clip than the rest of the nation. Six percent of students in the class of 2011 indicated an interest in pursuing a 4-year degree in education, compared to 3.2% of the class of 2015, a decline of nearly 50%.  Nationwide, the share of high school seniors planning to pursue a 4-year education degree has fallen 30% over this same period. 

Teacher turnover is also on the rise in North Carolina. Since FY 10-11, total teacher turnover in NC has increased from 11.2% to 14.8%.  Much of this increase can be explained by an increase in preventable turnover. The share of teachers leaving the profession to retire early, teach in another state, teach in a private school, or change careers has more than doubled since FY 10-11.

turnover

Source: North Carolina Department of Instruction, Annual Report on Teachers Leaving the Profession

While the supply of North Carolina teachers is falling, demand is increasing.  Student headcount continues to grow and teacher-to-student ratios remain below pre-recession levels. Over the last eight years, enrollment in North Carolina’s public schools has grown 0.6% per year.  At the same time, North Carolina’s teacher-to-student ratio has fallen by 6%.

state-funded-teachers

Source: North Carolina Department of Instruction, Highlights of the NC Public School Budget

If North Carolina were to return to pre-recession student-to-teacher ratios, the state would need to hire 5,180 additional teachers.

The report offers North Carolina policymakers a number of policy recommendations for avoiding a teacher shortage. Most notably, the report recommends:

  • Creating competitive, equitable compensation packages
  • Enhancing the supply of qualified teachers for high-need fields and locations via targeted training subsidies, forgivable loan programs, and teacher residency models
  • Improving teacher retention, particularly in hard-to-staff schools, through improved mentoring, induction, working conditions, and professional development

The report actually singles out North Carolina as a state that once implemented such policies in the 90s, leading to impressive gains in student achievement. During that time period, North Carolina:

  • Increased teacher salaries to the national average
  • Boosted requirements for teacher preparation programs
  • Launched a mentoring program for new teachers
  • Invested in professional development
  • Promoted National Board Certification
  • Implemented the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program to increase the supply of home-grown, highly-qualified teachers

The report mentions that as a result of these reforms, North Carolina posted the largest gains and sharpest reduction in the achievement gap of any state during this period, becoming the first Southern state to achieve above national average scores in both reading and math.

Of course, many of the advances of the 90s have since been reversed. Teacher salaries have fallen to 41st in the nation. North Carolina teachers now must pay their own National Board application costs of $1,900 when seeking certification. State funding for mentoring and professional development has been eliminated, as has the Teaching Fellows Program.

North Carolina policymakers hoping to avoid a teacher shortage in North Carolina should give the report a thorough reading before tuning in next week to NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, when Desiree Carver-Thomas, one of the report’s co-authors, will discuss A Coming Crisis in Teaching?.

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