Low Pay and High Stress Fuel Teacher Exodus
Teachers continue to leave North Carolina. With salaries that lag behind states like Georgia by as much as $8,000 per educator, and a system that judges performance based on standardized test scores rather than student improvement, teachers' stress levels have reached the breaking point. With better pay and fairer, more appreciative systems of education across the state's border, North Carolina educators are making the tough decision to move - some even landing in other nations like Ecuador.
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Fifteen percent of the state's nearly 100,000 teachers left the classroom last year, according to a draft report to the state Board of Education. That number is about the same as the year before.
The report points to job dissatisfaction as a main reason for the exodus.
"Teachers are very unhappy in North Carolina, which trickles down to the students being very unhappy," Mangum said.
Teachers aren't just leaving North Carolina for other states, they are leaving for other countries, like Ecuador.
"I wanted to stay but the conditions became so difficult for me,” said Kirstie Fischer, a librarian at an international school in Ecuador.
She had been a librarian in Asheville and Buncombe County schools.
“I was on a wage freeze from the entire time I started my professional job,” she said. “I never got a salary increase."
She had seven years on the job when she decided to leave.
"It makes me sad but I don't feel like I could ever go back to public education in North Carolina now because my conditions here are so much better,” she said.
That's something Laura Davis, the executive director of human resources and high schools, has heard a lot about at Asheville City Schools.
"A lot of people unfortunately left because they feel that the demands of the job were interfering with their personal life and that it just was not satisfying to work for the rate of pay they were receiving considering the amount of work they had to put in,” she said.
The national education association says the state ranked 47th in teacher salary with average pay being about $45,000 a year.
By comparison, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia pay between $2,500 and $8,000 more a year.
Pay is a big issue but another factor teachers point to is testing designed to measure their effectiveness in the classroom.
That's something McCrory's office agrees with. He faces competition in the governor's race next year from Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper who is already campaigning on education.
"We need to remove the burdens off our teachers to do what they do best, which is teach," Falkenbury said.
Mangum found better working conditions in Georgia and less testing was part of that.
"There's so much of the entire child that cannot be assessed on those high stakes tests. And yet the only thing we are pulling from to determine how good a teacher is that test," he said.
He said he would rather see teachers measured on whether students are growing from the beginning of the year to the end instead of tests that are focused on specific skills, like reading, with a standardized goal for every student.