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State data show teacher turnover, vacancies continue to rise

An outline of a teacher stands in front of a classroom full of students.
Anisa Khalifa
About 11.5% of North Carolina teachers left the profession last school year, including retirements. There were just over 6,000 teaching vacancies reported statewide, including classes without a fully licensed teacher.

Newly released statewide data show that teacher turnover rose significantly last school year. Each year, the state board of education receives a report on the "state of the teaching profession" with data from the prior year.

The draft report released today is based on data collected during the 2022-23 school year. That year, about 11.5% of North Carolina teachers left the profession, including retirements. That compares to 7.8% of teachers who left the profession the previous year.

"When we saw this, we started thinking about, 'Well, how do we understand this? Is this the darkening of the skies and the thunderclaps? Or can we think about this in context?'" said Tom Tomberlin, the North Carolina Department of Education's senior director of Human Resources Services.

The teacher turnover rate for North Carolina has remained below the national rate for years, though it is beginning to approach the national average.

Tomberlin also noted that public school positions have remained more stable compared to other public sector jobs that have also seen increased attrition in recent years.

NC Department of Public Instruction
State Board of Education meeting materials

The report also shows the number of teaching positions that were vacant more than a month into the school year rose. In fall 2022, there were 6,006 teaching vacancies recorded statewide on the 40th day of school, with more than a thousand vacancies in the core classes of math, English, science and social studies. That vacancy count includes classrooms that do have a teacher, but one who is not fully licensed.

“We need to completely overhaul the way we license, compensate and support teachers,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said in response to the report.

Truitt’s administration has supported revisions to teacher licensure and compensation that would create different roles and pay levels for teachers that would allow experienced teachers to take on more duties for higher pay. Her administration’s proposed model would reflect a pilot program that exists in many school districts. But after her loss in the Republican primary election, Truitt has less than one year left in office to advance her policy agenda.

Other board members said that starting pay for beginning teachers and support for college students pursuing teaching degrees is inadequate.

“The fundamental truth is we don't have the base compensation right for our teachers in the state,” said the board’s vice chair Alan Duncan.

The presentation to the state board highlighted a trend of fewer new teachers coming through teaching colleges. The number of beginning teachers who are not yet fully licensed to teach in the state long-term also jumped last year. A higher proportion of beginning teachers than ever before now start with an alternative teaching license and less background in teaching, or as an international teacher.

Liz Schlemmer | WUNC
Based on data in the 2022-23 State of the Teaching Profession Report by the North Carolina Dept. of Public Instruction.

The number of beginning teachers who are not yet fully licensed to teach in the state long-term also jumped last year. “Residency license” teachers lead classrooms while also completing college coursework in education or their subject area because they did not take a traditional path to teaching by first getting a bachelor’s degree in education.

Teacher vacancy rates also ranged widely across school districts. Vance County Schools had the highest vacancy rate, with nearly a third of teaching positions reported vacant. Meanwhile four school districts — Alleghany County Schools, Graham County Schools, Mitchell County Schools and Tyrrell County Schools — reported no vacant positions.

The number of statewide vacancies almost doubled since fall 2020, which is the earliest year of comparable data. A state law changed the way the Department of Public Instruction records a vacancy between the spring and fall of 2020 to better reflect when a position is not filled by a licensed teacher. That contributes to a steeper increase in vacancies recorded since the 2019-2020 school year.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org