Focus on teacher recruitment and retention for long-term success

By Sarah H. Ostergaard

The deadline for teachers across South Carolina to sign or reject their annual contacts to teach in the same district next year is May 10 at 11:59 pm.

At the time of this writing, it is not known how many current teachers in School District Five have decided to renew or not but the statewide trend is that more educators are leaving and fewer are training to fill the roles. Teacher recruitment and retention is incredibly important for the long-run health of our community.   

What does the data tell us? The SC Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) publishes an annual educator Supply and Demand Survey report each November and February. CERRA reported 1,063 teaching vacancies in November, 2021, a 52 percent increase over the prior year and the largest number of vacancies since CERRA began collecting data in 2001. After a follow-up survey in February, 2022, CERRA reported 1,121 teaching vacancies statewide. This means substitute teachers are filling in or teachers are assigned to supervise extra classes during their planning time to cover the gap. This means more duties are covered by fewer people. This means new initiatives are added to existing responsibilities.

In November, 2021, CERRA reported 6,927 teacher departures, which represents a 9 percent increase over the prior year. Many of these district departures are due to retirement (18 percent) or transfers to another SC district (23 percent), but the remaining reasons for not renewing teacher contracts are less clear. In their exit surveys, 34 percent of those not signing the contract to remain in the same district cited external reasons for this choice (e.g., personal health, family issues, etc.) and 27 percent did not provide a reason. The CERRA report acknowledges that teachers may not feel safe explaining the actual reason for rejecting their contracts and may select a “default response rather than the actual reason for leaving to avoid any conflict or controversy.”

The good news is that there were 7,014 new hires by September/October 2021, representing an 11 percent increase in teachers hired throughout SC compared with the previous year. Of these new hires, 41 percent are first-year teachers. 

Teacher turnover has high costs. The direct costs include the time and expenses spent by district personnel and school administration in recruitment, hiring, and training new personnel. More concerning are the indirect costs – lower academic achievement results for students. Research demonstrates that high teacher turnover negatively impacts student academic achievement. Especially in high-poverty and/or low-performing schools, a high teacher turnover rate is more likely to result in hiring of less experienced teachers or those teaching on a provisional license or outside his/her area of expertise, less effective instruction, less collaboration among colleagues, and more disruption of the development of a school’s long-term programs and goals (see, e.g., Sorensen and Ladd, 2020).  

Malcolm Gladwell writes of a tipping point, “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Over the past few years, the CERRA reports demonstrate a trend of increasing teacher departures and vacancies throughout the state. Have we yet reached the tipping point where policymakers and community leaders enact positive change to retain teachers, or are recent trends of increased teacher departures and more vacancies at our schools just the tip of the iceberg?