Tracking teacher loss: Inside NC's new way of analyzing those who leave

Teachers who left North Carolina public schools last year were, on average, less effective teachers than those who stayed.

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Kelly Hinchcliffe
RALEIGH, N.C. — Teachers who left North Carolina public schools last year were, on average, less effective teachers than those who stayed.
That's one of the new details included in North Carolina's latest "State of the Teaching Profession" draft report, which will be presented to the State Board of Education this week for approval.

Commonly known as the annual teacher turnover report, it shows how many North Carolina educators leave their jobs and the reasons why.

This year's report has undergone several major changes, including the addition of teacher effectiveness data, recruitment data showing which school systems attract the most local teachers and a new method to calculate teacher loss.

WRAL News spoke with the report's new author to learn more about this year's results and to find out why changes were made.

Report aims to be more 'accurate, transparent'

One of the most noticeable changes in this year's report is that the term "teacher turnover" has been replaced with new buzzwords – "attrition," which tracks the loss of teachers at the state or school district level, and "mobility," which shows where teachers are moving within the state.

Tom Tomberlin, a North Carolina Department of Public Instruction employee who took over the report this year, said those words were added to help better explain why teachers leave and where they go.

Last year, the state reported 14.8 percent teacher turnover, up from 14.1 percent in 2013-14. This year, the state reported an overall attrition of 9.04 percent. While that appears to be a major improvement, the report warns that this year's number "cannot be compared to prior year reports in a meaningful way."

That's because this year's 9 percent attrition rate only counts teachers who are no longer employed in North Carolina public schools. In previous years, the state's turnover rate included teachers who transferred to other school systems or charter schools in the state or were promoted to principal or other non-teaching school positions.

"We are not looking at these numbers the same way as we did last year," said Tomberlin, who serves as director of educator human capital policy and research at NCDPI.

"Those differences in calculations were in response to criticism we received last year," he said. "We're trying to make (the report) as accurate and transparent as we can."

This year's report does provide another way to look at the numbers, which is similar to last year's data. The state reports that 13.4 percent of teachers left their positions for various reasons last school year. That number is calculated by adding up teachers who left North Carolina public schools (9.04 percent) and those who moved to another school district in the state (4.36 percent).

What types of teachers are leaving?

New this year is the addition of teacher effectiveness and evaluation data, which Tomberlin has access to in his role at the state department of education. He decided to include that data, he said, to add more context to the report.

"It’s not just how many (teachers) are leaving. It’s what type of teacher is leaving," he said. "You may be less concerned about teachers who aren’t showing dramatic impact on student learning."

The report defines effectiveness using teachers' average EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) index score. EVAAS examines the impact teachers have on students' learning in specific courses, grades and subjects.

The report found that, on average, teachers who left North Carolina public schools had lower EVAAS index scores and were less effective teachers than those who remained.

"That’s not to say we're glad to be rid of them," Tomberlin said. "(But) there are some people that, in the end, it’s a good decision for them and the state that they’re leaving."

The report also includes data from the North Carolina Educator Effectiveness System, which rates teachers on five standards. The report found that the probability of a teacher leaving North Carolina public schools "is substantially higher when a teacher receives a less than proficient rating."

Another addition to this year's report is mobility data, which show where teachers are moving within the state.

If a teacher leaves Durham Public Schools to teach in Wake County, for example, that counts as mobility. The data only include teachers who move between public school systems and charter schools in this state.

The report found that, from March 2015 to March 2016, about 4.36 percent of teachers in North Carolina moved to a new school district or charter school.

Halifax County had the highest mobility rate. Thirty-seven of its 217 teachers, or about 17 percent, went to other school systems in the state last year. Clay County had the lowest mobility rate. None of its teachers went to other local public school systems.

The difficulty of tracking teachers

North Carolina has a list of 28 reasons why teachers leave their jobs. They include reasons such as "dissatisfied with teaching," "resigned to teach in another state," "retired with full benefits" and even "deceased."

When teachers leave, schools must choose one of the 28 reason codes for each teacher and send that information to the state. Teachers are usually asked which reason best fits them. The state then takes that information and compiles it into an annual report.

The difficulty of tracking teachers, according to Tomberlin, is that they don't always end up where they say they will.

Last year, 475 teachers reported that they were transferring to another school district or charter school in the state but then never showed up on the payroll anywhere in North Carolina public schools. Tomberlin said the discrepancy was found while searching payroll data.

Other inconsistencies were found as well. Some teachers said they were leaving their school district, but payroll data showed they were still teaching there. Tomberlin estimates fewer than 20 teachers fell into that category.

"There were some issues around teachers saying they were going to leave and not actually leaving," Tomberlin said. "I think what we’re seeing, what's been a problem all along, is that payroll data is a very reliable source of information. The reason codes are a less reliable source of information."

When an inconsistency is found, the state doesn't have a way to code that in the system. Tomberlin said he expects that the state school board will want to discuss the issue of data accuracy.

"Because that's what going to drive policy decisions," he said. "We know (teachers) are leaving. We're not as confident in the why behind it."

Tomberlin said he would be interested in changing the way the data is collected. Instead of asking local school systems to report why teachers are leaving, he suggests allowing teachers to submit that information directly to the state.

"If the state collected the data, I think it would allow for a little more honesty in the feedback that we got," he said. "I think that would be a really good way to improve it."

What could drive policy discussions?

This year's report includes two reasons why teachers leave "that might have root causes that could be addressed through policy."

The first, according to the report, is that nearly one in ten teachers (9.6 percent) who left North Carolina public schools indicated that they intended to teach in another state. More than half of those teachers (54.7 percent) were in their first five years of teaching. Additionally, the report states, this group of teachers has the highest attrition rate among the state’s teaching force.

The second, policy-relevant reason that teachers gave for leaving North Carolina public schools was a desire to pursue a different career, according to the report. Nearly half the teachers (48.2 percent) who cited that reason for leaving were in the first five years of teaching.

"The state did target early-career teachers for salary increases in 2015," the report states. "If attrition rates among this group of teachers do not respond to the increased salary, the state could benefit from probing deeper into these teachers’ motivations for pursuing their teaching careers in other states or leaving the profession altogether."

Feedback sought on new teacher report

When Tomberlin took over this year's report, he had to make "different analytical decisions" about what information was most important to include. Now that the report has been released, he hopes to get feedback from state school board members, legislators and the public about what future reports should focus on.

One person who is pleased with the new report is Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the State Board of Education. Forest previously called for changes to the report and was critical of how the media covered last year's data, saying the turnover rate was overblown.

In a YouTube video posted last year, Forest said the 14.8 percent turnover rate didn't tell the whole story. He pointed out that about 4.7 percent of the teachers changed schools or took jobs in school administration, 2.3 percent retired and another 1 percent didn't have their contracts renewed.

In a statement Monday, Forest said he was "very pleased to see that DPI, after four years of my office requesting, has provided a better understanding of the teaching profession in North Carolina."

He said a "remarkable finding" in this year's report is that, "of the teachers that left the profession, the data tells us that only 138 left because they were dissatisfied with teaching."

"That is one ten thousandths of a percent of all of our North Carolina public school teachers," he said. "A stark contrast from the narrative the media and many running for office have tried to use the past few years."

In an interview Monday, Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said he was skeptical of the teacher effectiveness data included in this year's report and wanted to learn more about how the state defined that term.

Jewell, who said he had not yet read the entire report, said "multiple measures" would need to be included before trying to determine teachers' effectiveness.

"At the end of the day, we have a teacher shortage crisis in North Carolina, especially in districts with poverty," he said. "I think that’s the number one issue in public education."

Other key findings in this year's report

  • There were 95,549 teachers employed in North Carolina between March 2015 and March 2016. Of these teachers, 8,636 are no longer employed in NC public schools (including public charter schools).
  • Teachers with fewer than three years of teaching experience are considered beginning teachers in North Carolina. During the period between March 2015 and March 2016, there were 17,618 beginning teachers employed statewide and 2,252 were reported as attrition. The attrition rate for beginning teachers employed statewide is 12.78 percent, substantially higher than the attrition rate for those not classified as beginning teachers.
  • 4,308 lateral entry teachers were employed and, of those, 673 (15.62 percent) were no longer employed with NC public schools in March 2016. A total of 728 teachers were employed in North Carolina as Visiting International Faculty teachers, and 134 (18.41 percent) of those teachers were not retained. A total of 449 Teach for America teachers were employed in March 2015 and 147 (32.74 percent) were no longer employed in NC public schools in March 2016.
  • The majority (53.3 percent) of teachers who left employment in NC public schools cited "Personal Reasons" for their decision to depart. Retirement with full benefits and family relocation were the largest individual reasons (19.8 percent and 12.6 percent) cited for teachers' decision to leave employment in NC public schools.
  • With 100 of the 115 school systems (89.96 percent) reporting, the five hardest license areas to fill are: Math (9-12 and middle grades), exceptional children – general curriculum, and science (9-12 and middle grades).
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that: "Some teachers said they were leaving the state, but payroll data showed they were still teaching in North Carolina." It should have said: "Some teachers said they were leaving their school district, but payroll data showed they were still teaching there."


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