Report: COVID-19 impact on SC teaching jobs still unclear; districts to be surveyed again

The Berkeley County School District board has approved an attendance cap for Cane Bay...
The Berkeley County School District board has approved an attendance cap for Cane Bay Elementary School and Cane Bay Middle School.(Live 5 News)
Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 6:46 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - New data from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement showed some improvement in teacher recruitment and retention across South Carolina last year. However, it’s still unclear just how much impact the pandemic has had on school districts across the state.

The data comes from the center’s 2019-20 Supply and Demand Report which showed fewer departures but more positions still vacant at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

The report found fewer teachers left their jobs, a 10% decrease overall compared to the number of departures last year. Of the approximately 6,000 teachers who left, 32% did not return this school year because of personal or family reasons, and 18% retired.

But of those that left, a larger proportion were early-career teachers. The report found 42% of all teachers who did not return to their jobs had five or fewer years of South Carolina teaching experience and 16% had one year or less.

“These percentages are up from 36% and 13% last year,” the report stated.

However, CERRA’s report seemed skeptical about what this data actually showed.

“Feedback from personnel directors suggests that, in some cases, teachers may have selected a personal/family reason for leaving when the resignation was actually a result of COVID-related health concerns or daycare/school closures that left teachers with limited or no childcare options,” the report stated.

Many of the reasons for departures remain unknown as some teachers did not offer a reason and some districts did not collect this type of information.

“Based on district feedback and other sources of anecdotal evidence, it is believed that teachers often are reluctant to provide an honest reason for leaving if it is more job-related. Therefore, in some cases, teachers may indicate a personal or family related reason for their resignation to avoid any potential conflict with supervisors,” the report stated. “A category was added to the survey this year to capture departures that occurred due to COVID-19 reasons. Surprisingly, less than 2% of teachers who left reported a resignation related to the pandemic. It is likely that some districts did not add this category to their exit surveys, and therefore, teachers did not indicate a COVID-related departure.”

Districts also reported more vacant teaching or service positions in their survey responses. About 700 teaching or service positions were still vacant at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, which was a 26% increase compared to last year.

“The number of vacancies increased significantly compared to 2019-20, suggesting that districts faced more challenges when attempting to fill positions this year,” the report stated. “When the pandemic first hit in the spring of 2020, many teachers may have already signed their contracts for 2020-21 before experiencing the pandemic’s full and growing impact. Additionally, with districts creating more virtual opportunities for students, many teachers were moved into new virtual settings and districts would not report these moves as departures. Those moves could, however, create vacancies in schools where face-to-face instruction is continuing.”

The report found that fields with the largest spike in vacancies included literacy, mathematics, business/marketing/computer technology, and art. Meanwhile, special education typically represents the largest majority of vacancies each year, and the 2020-21 school year was no different as 20% of all vacant teaching positions were in this field, according to the survey data.

The report suggested it is “highly possible the compounding effects of the pandemic led to more teacher departures after districts submitted their Supply and Demand Survey.”

CERRA plans to survey districts in early 2021 to gather more information about the impact of COVID-19.

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