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Is Stafford County headed for a mass exodus of it's teaching force and an ensuing teacher shortage?

May 2, 2017

About a month ago, a SCPS teacher who would like to remain anonymous, reached out to me to express her disgust over SCPS treatment of teachers and how said treatment is causing many of our experienced teachers to flee the county.  It was a little alarming and unexpected.  From a parental perspective, Dr. Benson has done an amazing job of determining what the school system's problems are and has systematically gone about correcting them.  But it may be too little, too late for some teachers who feel they are undervalued and have had enough. With the School Board in the process of determining how to meet it's budget gap, and with teacher raises on the chopping block, it seemed like a good idea to dig a little deeper to determine what we might be in for.

 

According to SCPS, last year 271 teachers left the system, an attrition rate of 13%.  The year prior saw about the same number of teachers leave at 267. It's hard to know exactly what that means in and of itself though, is that rate high?

Last year, the Spotsylvania School Board asked this very question and their staff produced the chart above, which compares area counties attrition rates including our own. Stafford County is right in the middle of the pack.  According to the Learning Policy Institute, the Virginia statewide teacher attrition percentage is 14.6% and the national number is 14.2%, so we are inside expected parameters.  But not all of these teachers are leaving to teach elsewhere, many are leaving the profession all together.  

  

According to an interview with the Learning Policy Institute President Linda Darling-Hammond,  the national percentage of teachers who are leaving the profession entirely is at about 8%.  Less than 1/3rd of these teachers are retiring due to age, the rest are people who have fled the profession for greener pastures due to job dissatisfaction.  Here in Virginia, our percentage is the same as the national average at 8%.  This unsettling trend has created a nationwide shortage of teachers, with approximately 250K teachers leaving teaching across the U.S. last year.  

 

From a report released by the Learning Policy Institute last September, "Between 2009 and 2014, the most recent years of data available, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35% reduction. This amounts to a decrease of almost 240,000 professionals on their way to the classroom in the year 2014, as compared to 2009."  Why the drop in enrollments to educational degrees?  Maybe part of the reason is this sobering statistic, again according to the LPI report "In 30 states a teacher who has a family of four is eligible for several sources of government assistance, including free or reduced-price lunch for their own children in school."  It seems young people today aren't keen on putting themselves deep into college debt to just to take a job that still qualifies them for welfare, fancy that.

 

But what about Virginia, do we have a teacher shortage here?  You bet we do, here is the list of the top shortage areas anticipated for the next school year produced by the Virginia DOE.

It might have been easier if they just said "EVERYTHING."  It is true that this list of "shortages" is generated every year, meaning if there is always a "shortage," maybe there is never one.  Let's take a look at this same shortage list for Virginia from a few years back (find the complete list for all states and years at the US DOE.)

 

 

Looks a bit different, no?  The only non-core, non-specialty subject on that list is Science.  If teachers are not only leaving to go to other school districts but are leaving the profession entirely, why are they going? According to the LPI Report,  the top reasons teachers leave their jobs is compensation, teacher preparation prior to introduction to the teaching environment, mentoring for newer teachers and working conditions.   

 

Dr. Benson has made it clear that working conditions and teacher job satisfaction is important to him.  He has conducted a climate survey since he began at SCPS and the percentages of teachers who are happy in their work environments are creeping up.  He has also expressed a concern for continuing professional development for teachers and has instituted the first annual Teaching and Learning Summit to be held this summer.  Since there is little you can do to deal with an unprepared teacher, except not hire him in the first place, that leaves the big kahuna: compensation.  Below is a chart of base teacher salaries from across the state of a Virginia: (NOTE: the previous graph that was originally in this post was not starting salaries but base salaries, the current chart is for starting salaries.  BTW apologizes for this important error.)

 Here's a graph BTW made based on the numbers from the VDOE Workforce data:

When average salaries are considered, we do fare better but not by much, we still woefully under-compensate our teachers in comparison to our neighbors to the north.  SCPS doesn't like to compare itself to those counties because, as I have heard it said, it's not "an apples to apples" comparison.  While it may be true that our county is not as big as Loudon or Fairfax, that doesn't mean that we aren't capable of losing valuable members of our teaching force to them when we can not pay equitable salaries.  

 

Part of the reason for the discrepancy is what is called the COCA, Cost of Compete Adjustment.  This is a state subsidy paid to our northern, neighboring counties to help them compete with large salaries paid out by Maryland and DC school districts.  While we do get a portion of those funds, it is only 25% of what other counties in NOVA get. This is a huge drawback for us and is why SCPS is trying to emphasize other "benefits" that Stafford County offers, like professional development, pleasant work environment and great health benefits.  

 

But with the 95 HOT lanes expanding and making it even easier for people to commute to northerly counties, it's doubtful that will be enough to keep our valuable teachers here.  Many don't make enough to live in Stafford and deal with long commutes already.  What is to keep these teachers here when they can literally make thousands more if they travel just a little further north?  

 

Of course, if there is a mass exodus of teachers over the summer, your children will most likely still have teachers in all of their classes next year, but they may not be teaching in their field  or even prepared for the job.   Keep in mind, the shortage is for qualified teachers.  From the LIP Report, "Tens of thousands of teachers were hired in the fall of 2015 on emergency or temporary credentials to meet needs, and the same pattern has emerged as schools opened in 2016. In addition to hiring individuals who are not prepared to teach, districts and schools facing shortages have a small number of undesirable options: They can increase class sizes, cancel classes, use short-term substitutes, or assign teachers from other fields to fill vacancies. All of these stopgap solutions undermine the quality of education, especially for the students who most need effective schools."  So, SOMEONE, will be teaching your child's science class, it may just be an English teacher or a long- term substitute.

 

The SB will decide this week how to bridge the 5.7 million dollar budget gap and removing the small 1% teacher pay raise is in 2 of the scenarios.  Taking away this small token of appreciation seems like a bad idea.  If you think the SB should make sure our teachers get their 1% raise, please contact your SB Rep and let them know.  While you are at it, email your Supervisor and let them know how shameful it is that teachers who work in a county with the 6th highest median income in the COUNTRY can't be paid a competitive salary.  Find all of their contact info HERE.

 

If you still think there is no reason for concern, I will leave you with a message the aforementioned teacher left me recently.  17 interviews seems like a lot to me.

 

 

 

 

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