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Teacher import and export update

Despite the claims of some, North Carolina is not a “net exporter of teachers.”

In a newsletter published in October, I compared the number of teachers who came to North Carolina with the number who departed the state for teaching positions elsewhere. Based on NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) data, I concluded that the state is a net importer of teachers.

At the time, the 2014-2015 figures were not available and thus not included in my analysis. I recently obtained the numbers from the NC DPI, and the story has not changed. During the 2014-2015 school year, North Carolina licensed (via interstate reciprocity agreements) and subsequently employed 1,880 out-of-state teachers. At the same time, 1,028 public school teachers resigned to teach in other states. All told, the state imported 852 more teachers than they exported last year.

Between 2010 and 2015, 10,380 out-of-state teachers received North Carolina teaching licenses and were employed as classroom teachers in North Carolina public schools the following school year. During the same period, 3,222 teachers abandoned North Carolina to teach in an inferior state. The net gain for the state was over 7,100 teachers.

So, the good news is that North Carolina maintains a “teacher trade surplus” when it comes to employing teachers.

But there is some troubling news. First, the number of out-of-state teachers licensed through reciprocity agreements dropped for the second straight year. At the same time, the number of teachers leaving to teach in other states increased for the fourth straight year. If this trend continues, North Carolina may encounter a “teacher trade deficit,” that is, exporting more teachers than we recruit and employ.

Indeed, a deficit is not something that our state could afford. There is a steady demand for public school educators generally and a critical need to find qualified candidates to fill teaching positions in math, science, and special education. Moreover, given the recent dip in education school enrollment in the UNC System, growing school districts will be forced to rely on out-of-state teachers for years.

Second, there is a high turnover rate for licensed out-of-state teachers. According to NC DPI, around half of out-of-state teachers are no longer employed four years after receiving their North Carolina licenses. Unfortunately, we do not have the data to determine why these teachers chose to leave their teaching positions. There are a few credible theories.

Some may have accumulated teaching experience in North Carolina to obtain teaching positions in their home states. Earlier this year, I examined the career trajectories of 250 public school teachers who resigned from North Carolina public schools in 2015 and self-reported that they planned to accept teaching positions in other states. I found that a number of those in my sample appeared to be “boomerang” teachers. In an attempt to quantify this phenomenon, I requested licensure data from state education agencies in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. Unfortunately, none of the three could track the state of origin for teachers seeking licensure in their states.

Another possibility is that educators who come to North Carolina to teach are new or early career teachers who are test-driving the profession. Like many young teachers, they may have found that teaching in public schools is not for them (for any number of reasons) and have left the profession to pursue other careers or opportunities.

Obviously, neither the state government nor school districts can compel out-of-state teachers to remain in North Carolina’s public schools. In cases where the teacher has not lived up to his or her expectations, we would not want to. Yet, if North Carolina is losing a multitude of good teachers to other states or professions, then we should carefully reexamine our teacher retention efforts and implement policies and practices that make teaching in North Carolina as satisfying and rewarding as possible. Changes to the state compensation system and improvements in working conditions are two appropriate places to start.

Dr. Terry Stoops

Dr. Terry Stoops is Director of Research and Education Studies for the John Locke Foundation.