Commentary, Education

Forsyth County schoolteacher skewers conservative spin on teacher turnover and attrition numbers

As Clayton Henkel reported in yesterday’s Monday Numbers feature, the issue of school teacher turnover and attrition is back in the news again after the release of the latest edition of The State of the Teaching Profession in North Carolina.

Those endeavoring to make sense of the new numbers would do well to check out the assessment provided yesterday by veteran Forsyth County schoolteacher and regular Policy Watch contributor Stuart Egan on his blog Caffeinated Rage. As Egan explains, the numbers spurred conservative education analyst Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation to argue that the new numbers show that attrition is on the decline and that, therefore, its a myth that thousands of teachers feel disrespected by state leaders.

Egan quotes Stoops:

If teachers truly felt “disrespected” by Republican legislative policies, one could argue that they would be leaving the profession in greater numbers, pursuing the plentiful opportunities supplied by the Trump economic boom.”

Here’s Egan in reply:

Odd that he simply look at the attrition percentages and automatically conclude what he did.

Beginning teachers had a higher rate of attrition than veteran teachers although all of those “historic” raises targeted those teachers in the early years of their careers. But those teachers will never get career status or graduate degree pay like many veteran teachers do as of now. Their retirement maybe has not vested or they are young enough to realize that living on a teacher’s salary may not be as easy in their veteran years as one might have hoped.

Teach For America teachers show a high attrition rate as it is commonly known that most only stay in the profession for 2-5 years. Just ask our state superintendent.

Those numbers do not show the transfer rate of teachers who may go from one county to another LEA that might offer a substantially higher local teacher supplement.

And is it not ironic that after the cut-off date for the data collection for the report there was a march of over 20,000 educators in Raleigh to advocate for public schools? Stoops may cite a victory in the fact that the GOP kept majorities in a gerrymandered state, but that is nothing more than a refusal to  look at the the reality more closely….

But the best rebuttal to the “teachers complain too much when so much ‘good’ is happening” comes from long time education activist and public school advocate John deVille. He articulates:

“It would be hard to cram more fallacies in a smaller space than Dr. Stoops has been able to achieve.

Stoops points to miniscule drops in NC teacher attrition rates over the past three years as sufficient evidence to call into question the wisdom, relevance, and appropriateness of our 20,000 to 30,000 teacher march last May 16th. In Dr. Stoop’s mind our NC teacher ire isn’t really legitimate if we aren’t leaving in larger numbers?

Huh?

Many American workers are dissatisfied but remain where they are because of insurance, mortgage payments…we have bills, you know.

We just learned through the calamitous Trump shutdown and the withholding of pay from 800,000 federal employees that we live in an economy where 78% of American workers live paycheck to paycheck, so leaving a position which has substantial shortcomings isn’t always an option…not when it means significant deprivation and massive damage to a household’s economic health when there is just a one to four week gap in pay.

So that might be a reason why the attrition numbers are slightly down.

It could be that we are almost natural born advocates for children, that we feel a responsibility for them. We see children in increasing numbers in our classrooms suffering from the ravages of poverty and trauma and abandoning them isn’t in our collective DNA. It could be that we marched because we want the school supply budget which remains less than half of what it was in 2008 restored to these children. Maybe we were marching for more wrap around services, for counseling and for nurses.

Maybe we are leaving in slightly fewer numbers because so many teachers have already left. Basic math suggests that when your overall teacher population has already been depleted that the aggravating source of the depletion, the attrition, even if it remains constant, won’t have the same mathematical impact because the target has already diminished.

I’m sure that all of my fellow teachers who were in the streets on May 16th are not aware of Dr. Stoop’s fanciful and false premise of the “plentiful opportunities supplied by the Trump economic boom.” I’m assuming that Dr. Stoops is aware of the phenomenon of rising income inequality in the Tarheel state and the nation which has been a constant and increasing figure on the landscape since 1980. So while here in NC, since the Great Recession, our overall economy has, like the national economy, expanded, the opportunities of which Dr. Stoops speaks, have not. According to a report published last year by the Economic Policy Institute, only six states are doing worse since 2008 when it comes to rising income inequality. For most of us, while the challenges in our classrooms are formidable, we know that those problems nor our economic woes will not be solved by becoming 30 hour a week baristas.

Finally, Dr. Stoops concludes with some exceptional humor, that things for our students and our classrooms can’t be all that bad since the Republicans hold the majority in the General Assembly.

Indeed they do.

The questionable and consistently challenged in court gerrymandering performed by the GOP in 2011 has made retaking either chamber exceptionally difficult. Nevertheless, far more NC voters voted FOR the classroom and against the parsimony and callousness which is the stock and trade of the NC GOP. A progressive, pro-public school coalition did indeed break the supermajority AND received far more votes than those elected officials who oppose the children’s interests in our classrooms. Moreover, many Republicans have shifted their stances viz the NC public school classroom and have become more supportive since the march and the election.”

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