As S.C. school districts struggle to find enough teachers, a new statewide study says more educators are leaving the classroom, forcing schools to rely on substitutes and international teachers to educate students.
S.C. school districts had 621 teacher vacancies at the start of the 2018-19 school year, a 16-percent increase compared to the previous year, according to a study released Monday by the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement at Winthrop University.
Vacancies were highest in critical-needs areas, including 105 openings for special teachers in elementary, middle and high schools.
Meanwhile, 7,300 S.C. teachers left their classroom at the end of the 2017-18 year, the study said. Only 27 percent of those teachers left to teach in another school district, meaning more than 5,300 teachers quit their jobs.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The numbers are not a surprise to most education advocates and S.C. legislators, who are expected to take up proposals to reform the state’s K-12 system and raise teacher pay in an effort to attract more teachers and retain them.
Jennifer Garrett of the Winthrop educator center said Monday the data shows “a lot more of the same, unfortunately.”
Data was pulled from 80 school districts, four career and technology education centers, and the Charter Institute at Erskine.
“More teachers are leaving, and fewer are entering the profession,” Garrett said. “That gap there keeps widening.”
‘The whole profession is just not valued in this state’
The 2019 report was not all bad news.
School districts were able to hire 7,600 new teachers for the start of the 2018-19 school year, the study said.
But South Carolina still struggles with too few college students entering teaching, loses too many new teachers and faces an increasing number of retiring baby-boomer teachers.
“The data shows what we already know,” said state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda,
For example, fewer students are pursuing teaching straight out of college — just under 1,650 during the 2017-18 academic year, the study said.
When new teachers do graduate, S.C. schools struggle to retain them.
The Winthrop study found that 35 percent of all teachers who left after the last school year had five or fewer years of experience. Thirteen percent taught in South Carolina no more than a year. And 25 percent of first-year teachers hired for the 2017-18 school year left their jobs and no longer teach in any state public school.
S.C. districts also last year dealt with the exodus of 1,937 veteran teachers, many of whom retired because the state eliminated the Teacher Employee Retention Incentive program, which let retirement-age teachers remain on the job, and get both their retirement pay and salary.
Nearly 2,000 teachers left their jobs to teach in another school district, charter or special school, according to the study.
About 344 teachers changed their profession, and 207 teachers left for personal reasons, including low salary.
To fill classrooms, S.C. school districts, in part, rely on substitutes and nearly 400 international teachers — intended to be part of a cultural exchange.
“I don’t think there is anybody out there that will say teachers don’t need more money,” CERRA’s Garrett said. “It helps. But there’s some other underlying issues in there.”
Superintendent Spearman said Monday the S.C. General Assembly must address the teacher shortage in a comprehensive manner, including raising teacher pay by a minimum 5 percent, providing more support to first-year teachers and cutting down on testing.
A proposal to do those things will become public soon, when House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, files bills intended to fix education funding and policy.
“The whole profession is just not valued in this state. Unfortunately, really in this country,” Winthrop’s Garrett said. “Until the reputation of the profession changes and the people start to see it as something that’s noble and worthwhile ... you’re always going to have a problem.”