Teacher attrition report: Workforce largely stable in 2020-21

Dept. of Public Instruction says 2020-21 numbers do not reveal “big surge” of departures

NC Dept. of Public Instruction building
NC Dept. of Public Instruction building

RALEIGH — A report detailing the number of teachers leaving the profession and the reasons for departures for the pandemic 2020-21 school year was presented to the N.C. State Board of Education at its March 3 meeting. 

According to the report, roughly 8.2% of teachers left public school employment during the 2020-21 school year. The 8.2% rate is comparable to the previous school year’s rate of 7.53%, and the rate in 2017-18 was 8.1%. 

“To be sure, attrition from the state’s teacher corps remains a concern and a challenge that we must address more aggressively,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said, “but the numbers for the 2020-21 school year show that the state didn’t see a big surge in teachers leaving the classroom, at least in the first 12 months of the pandemic. We’ll be assessing the impact of the second year of the pandemic when we’re able to analyze data from the 2021-22 school year.”  

The report points to the pandemic with regards to why some teachers might have left their positions and to the sizable percentage increase of teachers opting for one of over a dozen response options in their exit surveys. 

“While one cannot infer why these teachers elected to leave employment in North Carolina public schools, one might question whether teachers, who left due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, elected not to provide a reason for their departure,” the report reads. “Whatever the reasons are for their departure, teachers who did not select one of the standard responses to the exit survey more than doubled (117.21%) over the prior year.”  

In terms of numbers of teachers, some 600 more teachers left public school employment than did the previous year. In 2020-21, there were 94,328 teachers in the state’s public schools, with 7,735 teachers leaving by the end of the March 2021 reporting period. In the 2019-2020 school year, there were 94,410 teachers working in public schools in North Carolina, with 7,111 departing employment that year.  

The majority of the responses for leaving employment during 2020-21 showed double-digit decreases over the previous year.  

The category of “Personal Reasons,” which has multiple sub-options, was the most used in exit surveys with 3,449 or 44.6%. The previous year’s report came in at 4,039. Comparing the two years, that’s a 14.61% drop. 

The second largest percentage fell under “Other Reasons,” coming in at 1,973 (25.5%.)  That category is further broken down into two sub-options; resigned for other reasons (980) and resigned for unknown reasons (983). 

Other 2020-21 response options, most of which include sub-group responses, cited departures Initiated by LEA (Local Education Agency) at 459 (5.9%) and Beyond LEA Control at 1,856 (24%). 

As in previous years, Teach for America teachers had the highest attrition rates of any group, with 34.93% overall attrition rate and 29.6% rate for those teachers leaving before the end of their contract. 

Teacher retirements were similar but did increase over the previous year. The report says that in 2020-21, 554 teachers returned with reduced benefits. In 2019-2020, that number stood at 525. The difference between the two years is a 5.52% increase. Teachers retiring with full benefits totaled 1,522 versus 1,447 the previous year; an increase of 5.18%. 

“While this data from last year may appear to be encouraging, current staffing shortages and a high likelihood of the Great Resignation hitting our schools at the end of this school year, should challenge us all to aggressively launch additional district and state-level strategies to retain staff and fill vacancies before the next school year,” Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education said. 

Davis’ remarks, however, don’t consider the often long-standing vacancies in the districts, which often vary widely. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • A decline in teacher “mobility” during the 2020-21 school year with fewer teachers from the previous year leaving one district in the state for another, which effectively can compound attrition from individual districts. During the 2020-21 period, the mobility rate, on average, was 2.96%, almost half of the previous year’s mobility rate of 4.94%.  
  • The attrition rate for beginning teachers (less than three years) is higher than the attrition rate for those not counted as beginning teachers – 9.75% vs. 7.9%. The attrition rate for beginning teachers has historically always been higher than teachers with more than three-years of teaching experience. Despite the 9.75% during the 2020-21 year, beginning teacher attrition has continued to decrease since 2017-18, when it was previously 12.34%.  
  • Based on vacant teaching positions statewide as of the first and 40th day of school, the highest numbers of vacancies were reported in elementary grades (core areas of math, English language arts, science, social studies), special education across all grade levels and math at the middle and high school levels. 
About A.P. Dillon 1293 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_