by Melanie Barton, Executive Director – South Carolina Education Oversight Committee

The research is irrefutable:At the school level, teachers matter more to student achievement than any other school factor including facilities, services,and leadership.[1]  However, the data and trends in South Carolina’s preparation and retention of teachers, compiled by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement(CERRA)in its annual Educator Supply and Demand Report, foreshadow a growing public policy crisis.

  • The number of individuals completing a teacher education program has declined by 32%since 2012-13.
  • Approximately 7,300 teachers left their positions during or at the end of the 2017-18 school year, which is an increase of nearly 10% compared to the 2016-17 school year. Of these teachers, 27%reportedly went to teach in another South Carolina public school district, leaving more than 5,300 teachers no longer teaching.
  • At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year there were 621 vacant teaching positions, which is a 13% increase over 2017-18 and a 29% increase compared to 2016-17.
  • Excluding teachers who retired, 48% of all teachers in 2017-18 who left had five or fewer years of experience in a South Carolina public school classroom, and 17% had been teaching in South Carolina no more than one year.
  • Of the first-year teachers hired in 2017-18, one out of four left their positions during or at the end of that school year and are no longer teaching in any SC public school. This percentage was 22% in 2016-17.

Policymakers understand the data and know thataddressing the teacher recruitment and retention problems will require a comprehensive approach that focuses onthe pipeline into teaching and new strategies to increase retention, especially for teachers in the first five years of their careers.

The pipeline into teaching begins with our traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs. A recent report by theSouthern Regional Education Board (SREB) Teacher Preparation Commission recognized the growing teacher shortage issue in many SREB states and proposed strategies to increase the number of highly effective teachers.

One strategy is to improve the clinical experiences of teacher candidates by:

  • Requiring programs to place candidates in high-quality clinical experiences. Program approval standards should require teacher preparation programs to clearly communicate what quality teaching looks like and to place teacher candidates with strong mentor-teachers. Images of effective teaching are critical to new teacher development, and those visions help new teachersto be more successful during their first years of teaching.
  • Providing mentor-teachers support and training, with specific strategies for giving good feedback. Engaging expert mentors in the preparation of teachers not only supports new teacher developmentbut also empowers those in the profession to stay there.
  • Prioritizing any available stipend funding for residencies for candidates who intend to teach in low-performing or hard-to-staff schools.Directing resources to the schools in greatest need can help those schools attract and retain high quality teachers. Further, research indicates (cite residency working paper)that teacher candidates completing residency programs have lower rates of teacher turnover than their peers.

These strategies likely will require additional funding for our teacher preparation programs and greater partnerships between teacher preparation programs and school districts. South Carolina policymakers are also considering legislation to allow institutions of higher education to offer alternative teacher preparation programs as well.Expanding access to the profession is critical to increasing the pipeline.

Regarding retention, policymakers focused efforts in 2019 on increasing the minimum starting salary of teachers from $32,000 to $35,000 and on increasing teacher salaries by 4%using the existing salary schedule that rewards teachers for years of experience and educational attainment. Policymakers concede that increased pay is necessary but insufficient to address the shortage.

Policymakers also need to hear directly from teachers. Implementing a periodic working conditions survey, similar to one used in North Carolina, would answer the question why teachers are choosing to stay or leave the profession. In talking to business leaders and human resources representatives in the state, the working conditions survey should also ask this important question of teachers leaving the profession:What could have been done to keep you teaching? Having the data would help in devising policies to improve teacher retention.

Others suggest that the state consider piloting an alternative teacher salary schedule like career bands. Teachers would move up the career bands based upon longevity, on added responsibilities in the school or district, or even for prior experience in the private sector. Districts could establish additional qualifications to move from one band to the next. Districts would annually submit their pay schedules to the State Board of Education for approval.

The most difficult issue to combat in the teacher shortage crisis is public perception. For the first time since Gallup began polling Americans about their attitudes toward public schools for the PDK in 1969, the majority of parents in 2018 do not want their children to become public school teachers. In 1969,75%of parents would have liked for their child to become a teacher. In 2018,46%of parents would have liked for their child to become a teacher. The sharp increase in the negative perceptions of the profession by parents started in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the first time in our nation’s history when teachers were laid off due to revenue shortfalls.

Unfortunately, policymakers cannot write a check or pass legislation to change public perception. This is where a broad-based coalition of South Carolinians who understand that the State’s economic and social future depends upon having a world class education system, a system which at its core function is based on having highly effective teachers in every classroom in every school in South Carolina. Why? Because our students matter, and our teachers matter.

[1]Teachers Matter. RAND Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/corporate_pubs/CP693z1-2012-09.html