As some of you may know, BTW has been covering a disturbing trend of high teacher turnover rates at SCPS. This week, the folks at SCPS central office have released some documents that seem to suggest this problem isn't nearly what it's been made out to be. Their data show that teacher turnover has decreased 3% from last year, from 14% to 11%. That's fantastic news! But before we take any victory laps, let's take a look at said data.
A presentation was made to the School Board on Tuesday on this issue, including the graph above. To see the whole report, click the link here. As stated at the top, this list only addresses those who resigned, the 39 employees who retired and 11 who took a leave of absence are not included in these numbers. The graph is a bit confusing to say the least but we can make sense of it. The bars in orange represent the percentage of licensed employees (excluding Admins) who left SCPS during the previous fiscal year 2016, the blue bars represent that percentage for fiscal year 2017. The numbers at the bottom cluster employees by experience. The numbers above the bars represent the total number of employees who left in each category. It is important to note here that ALL licensed employees are included in these numbers, not just teachers. These numbers can include specialists and other licensed employees, as well as teachers. Looking at the first set of columns, we see that in 2017, 95 employees with 0-5 years experience left SCPS, which constituted a little over 50% of that population. The prior year, more employees left (106) but a lower percentage of the population left at around 48%. Clear as mud?
There are some interesting differences in the data presented here and the data that has been given to BTW in the past. First of all, it seems odd to present this data during fiscal years. These fiscal years end June 30th but licensed employees are still able to leave after this point. They may have to break contracts but that happens, BTW has confirmation of just such activity happening now from SCPS teachers. Also, all licensed employees have not been included in numbers received from BTW in the past, only teacher attrition rates. These things make it difficult to make an apples to apples comparison using any previous data. You will note that the total number of licensed employees is never given in the graph (or the entire presentation) which makes the graph less meaningful.
Although the numbers weren't included in the presentation, the total number of SCPS employees is included in the SCPS press release. The number of licensed staff in FY 2016 was 1977 and 2,050 in FY 2017. The total number of resignations, including retirements and leaves of absence, was 283 in FY 2016 and 235 in FY 2017. Any teachers who may leave at this point before the start of the next school year would be included in next year's numbers, if the data is calculated the same way. It should be noted that with a higher number of employees in FY17, the percentage of those who left would naturally decrease even if that number of employees was the same as the previous year.
However, even based on just this graph, there are some disturbing numbers. Let's look at that first set of numbers, the 0-5 year employees. In both the last FY AND the one before, around 50% of all resignations came from this group. Lisa Boatwright, the new Executive Director of HR at SCPS said herself in the SCPS press release, "Retention is our best recruitment strategy." That may be true, but it doesn't seem to be happening with this demographic, the very SAME demographic that has gotten targeted pay raises over the last few years in favor of more experienced teachers. Remember, teachers with more than 9 years of experience got a 0% raise last year, yet they are the ones who must perennially train and mentor this endless parade of new employees. The cost to replace these employees and train them is astronomical.
But let's shift gears to another tidbit that has been released with this report. In an article published in the Free Lance Star, Mrs. Boatwright said, “We often hear that most teachers are leaving to go to northern county school systems, but the data doesn’t support it." According to SCPS, only 8 percent of licensed employees are leaving to head to our neighbors to the north based on exit surveys. Boatwright went on to state that the top two reasons for leaving were retirement and relocation. That would be great news...if that data was at all reliable. SB Falmouth rep Scott Hirons said this about the numbers in an FB post, "However, I am concerned that number could be a little misleading because when teachers leave they are not required to state a reason." Mr. Hirons is on to something. Not only are teachers not required to state a reason, some never even get the exit survey. BTW has been made aware of at least one teacher who is leaving SCPS to head up north who did not receive a survey.
Another disturbing issue regarding these exit surveys is the fear employees have of being honest. The word BTW gets from teachers, both current and former, is that most do not put the true reasons they leave on exit surveys. This is due to fear that their answers will be held against them if they ever need to return to SPCS. BTW has heard anecdotal evidence to support that this type of retribution does occur at SCPS or at least, it has in the past. I have been told that teachers often say they are leaving for "personal reasons" to avoid this issue. So, let's take a look at the reasons for leaving given by teachers according to SCPS:
The chart above was also presented to the SB last Tuesday. It does clearly state that only 8% of licensed employees leaving admitted to heading to the north for higher pay. But there are a couple of other very interesting reasons given in the chart above starting with "cited economic reasons." I think it is safe to say that these "economic reasons" are actually "low pay" and not "I'm am having difficulty sleeping on my pile of money a la Scrooge McDuck." Therefore, we can safely toss this group into the group that left Stafford for other areas, maybe to our north that pay better OR to our south, where cost of living is lower. I think it also bears mentioning that the "no reason given" category jumped up by almost 4% from FY16-FY17, I wonder why that may be? "Relocation" could also mean moving to another school system in VA, either to our north or south, it does not necessarily mean a military spouse's relocation. Maybe some of those who left education entirely did so because they just couldn't make ends meet anymore. Finally, and there may be a valid reason for this that I am unaware of, but neither of the columns above totals 100%. What reasons were given by the remaining employees that didn't conveniently fit into one of these categories: bear attack, abducted by aliens, joined a cult? Just curious...moving on.
NOT PICTURED: Any SCPS Teacher
There is one, last, unsettling point to be made. As of right now, there are over 100 teaching positions waiting to be filled on the SCPS employment page. It is almost August. Who, exactly, will be filling those positions come September? Most teachers have already signed contracts, certainly any good ones worth having. If qualified teachers can't be found to fill these positions, then unqualified ones will have to do. Long-term subs,"teachers" who do not have the proper credentials or even the specific knowledge to teach in any given subject, could be found in many more classrooms this year than ever before. This is a problem, do you want a long-term sub teaching your child's AP class at Forge? I use Forge because I know of at least 3 veteran AP teachers who recently announced their departure for other school systems. The more likely option is that they just won't have those classes if they can't find qualified teachers, that's a super option for our kids!
I am very glad for the efforts that SCPS is making to keep teachers here in Stafford. The recent teacher summit was met with rave reviews and clearly motivated a lot of teachers who desperately needed the boost. However, this data leaves the impression that SCPS is a breeding ground for young, inexperienced teachers who are hired right out of school, get some experience under their belt with the help of our veteran teachers and then leave for better opportunities and higher pay. It doesn't matter where they are headed: Arlington, Fairfax, Saskatchewan, outer Mongolia. They aren't staying, so SPCS (and ultimately, our kids) aren't getting the benefit of all that training. They are leaving because they don't want to be like our veteran teachers, who work to train new teachers but don't get appropriately compensated. They leave while the getting is good. While SPCS may want to minimize it, our veteran teachers are leaving, too. I ask any teachers who can support that to leave comments below or on the FB page. Until we raise the pay of ALL our teachers, this situation will not change. What will change is we will see more and more unqualified teachers hired, more and more veteran teachers leaving out of frustration and our kids caught in the middle.
One final note, here is a link to a story I read recently. It tells the story of a Florida school that has been failing for years and struggled with turnover. According to the article "Nearly a quarter of Carver’s current teachers are first-year instructors, and two-thirds had taught fewer than two years." The school system determined that the way to turn the school around was to get qualified, experienced teachers in the classroom. How are they getting them? By offering them obscene amounts of money and because of that, over 500 teachers applied to work at one school. I hope that we don't have to get to the point where our school system is failing to understand that the only way to give a quality education to our kids is to prioritize it and pay our professional teachers what they are worth.