By Richard Nichols, 2015 MeckEd Board Chair
Spend enough time inside our city’s corporate boardrooms or around small business conference tables and you’ll hear two works again and again: Talent pipeline.
The business community is obsessed with managing its supply of qualified, available workers—and rightfully so. People are the most important resource in our community. They will shape the future of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, so long as we work diligently to ensure the supply keeps up with demand.
That’s the problem North Carolina’s public schools face today. A teacher pipeline crisis is coming. It’s up to all of us to figure out a way to solve it.
There are many significant issues confronting public schools in North Carolina and CMS. Simply pick up the paper or turn on the news and you’ll hear about the new school grades, the fallout from our former superintendent’s surprise resignation, a court battle over school vouchers and an increase in students who live in poverty.
All of these issues are important. But I’m convinced the teacher talent pipeline squeeze is among the most urgent in 2015.
The data tells a disturbing story. The pipeline is being squeezed from several directions. On the front end, fewer college students want to become teachers. Enrollment in UNC system colleges of education is down 15 percent from 2008 to 2013.
On the back end, experienced teachers continue to leave the profession in alarming numbers. MeckEd recently looked into turnover rates in the four largest North Carolina school districts from the 2009-10 school year to the 2013-14 school year. We found increases in every district. Last year Durham Public Schools led the way with a 20 percent teacher turnover rate; CMS came in second at 15 percent.
Last year, in an attempt to address the state’s teaching crisis, the General Assembly invested $282 million in raises for North Carolina teachers. The funding led to raises of anywhere 0.3 percent to 18 percent for our state’s educators. This investment is necessary and appreciated. We are encouraged lawmakers and the governor recognize there is more work needed to raise our state’s average teacher salary from 46th in the nation, where it was last year, toward 25th, where it stood before the recession. A recent survey of educators found a whopping 52 percent of North Carolina teachers have a second job.
That statistic sends the wrong message to educators in other states, once an important source of talent for our public schools. Human resources teams from many North Carolina school districts travel each spring to the Northeast and Midwest to recruit the heck out of their educators and woo them to our classrooms. CMS was often able to hire outstanding teachers who found North Carolina to be an appealing option with competitive salaries, low cost of living and a comfortable climate. Selling North Carolina to these out-of-state teachers has become more difficult after the recession.
MeckEd is pleased that the UNC Board of Governors and the State Board of Education have developed a seven-point plan to address teacher training, recruitment and retention. The education sector clearly must lead the way in addressing its talent crisis. But it would be a mistake for the business community to believe we don’t have a role in this work, too.
Nothing is more important to our education system and the long-term economic vitality of our community than having high-quality teachers in front of our children. Without great teachers in every classroom, our community simply cannot meet the goal of providing high quality schools—for all children, in all neighborhoods.
The business community benefits from a well-educated society. The kids who graduate from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools can be part of our talent pipeline. So why aren’t we concerned with the talent shortage in our schoolhouses?
Richard Nichols is a senior vice president at Bank of America and MeckEd’s 2015 Board Chairman. This editorial first appeared in the April 3, 2015 edition of the Charlotte Business Journal.