A recent article in The State newspaper reported that “SC teachers are leaving classrooms at record rates.” Superintendent Molly Spearman responded to the details of the article with the comment that “It will take time and collaboration to address these issues, and I call on our state and local leaders to come together and help us ensure that our students will have quality educators who will prepare them for college, career, and citizenship.” And, the newly elected State Superintendent Ellen Weaver declined comment on the report.
Spearman makes a very valid point regarding the fact that the teacher shortage issue will take time to resolve. The teacher supply and demand issue is a national problem and is not new to South Carolina. Not only is there a shortage of qualified teachers, but there is also a significant issue with teacher retention that exacerbates the state’s supply and demand problem, especially in high-needs school districts. Since 2014, between 4,100 and 4,800 South Carolina teachers have left the education profession each year.
Unfortunately, a significant number of these teachers were just beginning their careers. Between 1,300 and 1,800 identified as having five or less years of experience, and between 530 and 600 teachers spent one year or less in the classroom before deciding to depart, according to a 2017 report from the South Carolina Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA). These data are disturbing in that teacher attrition obviously has a negative impact on student learning and, from an economic perspective, the cost of advertising, hiring, and inducting new teachers costs the nation $2.2 billion each year of which $36.7 million can be attributed to South Carolina. In addition, “high-poverty schools experience a teacher turnover rate of about 20 percent per calendar year—roughly 50 percent higher than the rate in more affluent schools,” according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
The problem is real, but quick fixes and band-aid solutions only prolong and contribute to the reasons why teachers leave the profession; and why many college students do not select teaching as a career. If we truly want to solve the teacher supply and demand issue, we need to examine and redefine what it means to be an effective teacher and a successful school.
The current purpose of education is based on a competitive economic model that emphasizes students as customers and education as a product that can be standardized, packaged, prescribed, and evaluated for accountability through high-stakes testing. Teachers and schools are perceived effective if they can successfully promote student achievement as defined by test scores on a standardized curriculum. Teachers who are not effective in “producing” students who can do well on passing tests are dismissed, or placed on remedial professional development. Schools that consistently have a high number of students who pass the testing accountability requirements receive commendations and awards. Schools that consistently fail to meet this particular commodity definition of student learning and teacher effectiveness are closed. Closed instead of actually addressing the possible poverty, cultural, and other societal issues that may be affecting student learning and teacher effectiveness.
To solve the teacher shortage, we need to redefine the purpose of education through local, state, and national administrative structures and processes that significantly involve teachers in the educational decision-making processes. These teacher decision-making structures will also provide a more valid representation of the actual school and community factors affecting teaching and learning. Developing a purpose of education that is more consistent with why individuals choose teaching as a profession, and why they choose to stay, will move us beyond the current quick fix and band-aid approaches for resolving the teacher shortage.
Edward Jadallah served for eleven years as Dean of the Spadoni College of Education and as Vice President for Online Education and Teaching Excellence at Coastal Carolina University.