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State official: Change in reporting style responsible for NC’s sudden drop in the teacher turnover rate

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Last week, Policy Watch reported the news that teacher turnover had seemingly plunged in North Carolina’s latest “State of the Teaching Profession” report.

But as a Department of Public Instruction official explained Monday, a change in how the report is calculated is more responsible for the drop than any major shift in the state’s policies or fortunes.

This year’s report, according to DPI Director of District Human Resources Tom Tomberlin, no longer factors in teachers who leave one district for another in North Carolina.

It’s a frequent occurrence in North Carolina. Teachers, particularly those working in lower-income districts, often depart for higher local supplements and prestigious schools in more affluent systems. Yet such cases—defined as “mobility” in the new state report—will no longer be factored into the state’s overall rate.

The new reporting style comes after a slew of complaints last year from “stakeholders,” Tomberlin said, including Gov. Pat McCrory’s office and leaders in the N.C. General Assembly.

“We shouldn’t give the impression that something wonderful happened in the state last year,” said Tomberlin.

As we reported Friday, this year’s report would indicate that turnover in the state plummeted from a lofty 14.8 percent in the 2014-2015 report to just above 9 percent. That number would be the lowest reported in the state over the last six years if it were comparable.

A more fair comparison would be to the combined attrition and mobility rate, which comes in at 13.4 percent, according to this year’s report. State officials are expected to present the data to the State Board of Education this week.

It’s worth noting that this year’s report still counts 828 North Carolina teachers who left to teach in other states. That’s a drop from last year, when a staggering 1,028 reportedly flocked to other states, but it’s the second-largest exodus in the last decade, according to past reports.

This year’s report does include data on the well-documented departure of teachers to more well-resourced districts, but Tomberlin said his office opted not to include this trend in the overall state attrition rate after complaints.

“How it was given to me was that people don’t think this is necessarily an accurate way to calculate turnover in this state,” he said. “I took that to heart and made it a little cleaner.”

The five highest attrition rates in the state were counted in relatively low-income locales such as the Halifax, Northampton, Thomasville, Lexington and Hoke districts.

In addition, the report noted that the state’s attrition rate for “beginning” teachers (i.e. fewer than three years of experience) was substantially higher than non-beginning teachers—about 12.7 percent compared to about 8.1 percent.

Critics contend that teachers in North Carolina are increasingly demoralized, owing to lackluster pay and insufficient classroom resources. Also, as Policy Watch reported in February, the number of students seeking teaching degrees in the UNC system has plummeted in the last decade. 

This week’s report to the state board comes at a time when North Carolina’s top education leaders are expected to consider their response to a budget request from McCrory’s office that all state departments, including the public schools, turn in 2 percent budget reduction proposals.

A 2 percent cut to North Carolina schools would amount to about $173 million, and could threaten thousands of teaching jobs as well as millions in classroom resources.

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