2/14/16 Educated Guess

Fewer young professionals in North Carolina are choosing to become teachers, a trend caused by a variety of factors. How to fill the void or reverse the course are complicated issues.

Educated Guess
Fewer young professionals in North Carolina are choosing to become teachers, a trend caused by a variety of factors. How to fill the void or reverse the course are complicated issues.
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 2/14/16     
Reprinted with permission.  

Controversy this month over proposed increases in health insurance premiums for state employees and eliminating spousal coverage could make the growing problem of finding new public-school teachers worse.

“I think the health insurance issue was just another blow for school teachers,” said Mark Jewell, vice president of the N.C. Association of Educators.

The Board of Trustees for the N.C. Health Plan tabled those proposals at its February meeting, calling it a delay, which has not dismissed worries.

“If N.C. was not currently ranked 47th in the nation for teacher pay, I might be willing to concede a modest increase to match inflation and/ or rising health care costs,” Southern Alamance High School teacher Andrea Chase wrote in an email to the Times-News.

The Legislature has been getting the blame for those proposals, Alamance County Republican Rep. Steve Ross said, but they came from the state treasurer and board, and the Legislature would never have let them through anyway. The Legislature did instruct the State Health Plan to cut costs in the face of rapidly rising health care spending, and increased the percentage of reserves it keeps from 9 to 20 to make sure the state was not blindsided by a big cost overrun. How to pay for that is still an open question.

“Ultimately, we’ll come up with some answers, but we’re not there,” Ross said. “It’s not something anybody has to get alarmed about.”

Whether perceptions of teaching in North Carolina is the reason, the demand for teachers is getting ahead of supply, said Alisa Chapman, vice president for academic and university programs with the UNC System.

“I think we have approached a crisis level of supply and demand in North Carolina,” Chapman said. “And the reasons for that are complicated.”

The number of students entering the 15 UNC schools of education declined by 30 percent since 2010, according to figures from the UNC System, and those schools supply more than 35 percent of the state’s teachers.

The second largest source of teachers is other states, Chapman said, but the shortage is growing nationwide, Chapman said, and is especially bad in North Carolina’s top 10 “supply states.”

Nearly 34 percent of ABSS teachers were trained in UNC schools, according to the UNC Educator Quality Dashboard; nearly 26 percent came from other states; and nearly 21 percent came out of private schools, which is a higher percentage than the rest of the state.

According to the data, it has become hard to find math, science, special education and middle school teachers, Chapman said. While it has not shown up in the data yet, principals also are telling her it’s getting harder to find elementary school teachers, which is a new problem, Chapman said.

Getting more young people into that pipeline is complicated, she said, and issues like pay and benefits are important, but not everything. Many teachers drop out of the profession in their first few years. One thing that keeps them teaching, Chapman said, is training and coaching in skills like classroom management, student discipline, curriculum design and time management, so they feel more effective in the classroom and less stressed.

“Beginning teacher support is an important part of that supply-and-demand equation,” Chapman said. “The more we can do to recruit, support and retain teachers, … the less we have to do on the front end to train new teachers.”

A program giving that kind of support to new teachers has had promising results, Chapman said, but with about 650 teachers in the program, it has a long way to go to make a serious dent in the growing teacher shortage.

The shortage has been a serious problem for rural districts, but is starting to affect urban districts as well, Jewell said, which is going to increase competition for teachers among counties. Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Schools have started recruiting from neighboring districts, which they had not done before, and Wake County increased its supplement to teacher pay.

“It’s putting the pressure on local governments,” Jewell said.