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Other views: Warning signs are pointing to a looming crisis in education

Be assured: Headhunters for other industries are lurking, and considering the fight to secure workers, they’ll be offering more money and fewer headaches for our educators.

Herald pull quote, 2/2622
Herald graphic

Last month, the Grand Forks Herald reported that more than a third of North Dakota’s teachers are considering leaving the profession or retiring.  

Notably, only 8% said they expected to leave or retire, but 59% said they don’t see themselves retiring as a teacher. That’s according to a survey conducted by North Dakota United, the statewide professional union of thousands of educators.

The top reasons to leave? Burnout and burdensome extra duties.

That was last month. This month comes another bad omen for the industry. According to a report from an organization called Archer Education, various internet search engine inquiries are showing signs that teachers nationwide are burned out.

For example: According to Archer, Google searches for “teacher burnout” are up 172% since the start of COVID, yet searches for “teacher salary” are down 83% during the same span. Here’s one more: Google searches for “jobs for former teachers” is at its highest monthly average since 2017, according to Archer.

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And as all of these teachers consider leaving the industry, remember that other industries are starved for workers, especially here in North Dakota. If those teachers who are considering quitting actually do it, they won’t be unemployed for long.

As reported this month by the Wall Street Journal: “The exodus is worsening a nationwide teacher shortage and proving a boon to hiring managers in industries such as IT services and consulting, hospitals and software development. Teachers’ ability to absorb and transmit information quickly, manage stress and multitask are high-demand skills, recruiters and careers coaches say.”

Why do we care?

Because finding teachers isn’t easy. These red flags should be considered a crisis.

In Grand Forks, the district is working on a document that calls for “an overall competitive compensation and benefits package to attract and retain highly qualified staff.” But, as the Herald reported, it’s not that simple, since the Legislature sets districts’ per-pupil funding formula.

A tax referendum was passed last year that could help improve local facilities and perhaps boost morale, and the district also has put in place a program that has experienced teachers getting extra pay to work with newcomers in the field.

These are good steps locally, but legislatures in the region must take up the effort in earnest to solve the problem.

Teacher pay, above all else, must be the issue. According to the National Education Association, North Dakota ranked 37th nationally in 2019-2020, with an average salary of $53,000; Minnesota is 23rd at $58,663 and South Dakota is 50th at $48,984. It’s not enough – nor are efforts to boost morale. What’s needed is more money for teacher pay.

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Easier said than done, of course.

Gaining economic stability would be a start. In Minnesota, for instance, many are calling on legislators to eliminate the so-called “cross-subsidy” – a process that sees schools use general fund dollars to make up for shortfalls in federally mandated special education funding.

Nobody wants to reduce special education funding; rather, backers seek more state aid to help eliminate the process of dipping into the general fund to pay for special ed, since fewer dollars in the general fund means fewer dollars for general education. That can lead to all sorts of programming, staffing and morale concerns.

Be assured: Headhunters for other industries are lurking, and considering the fight to secure workers, they’ll be offering more money and fewer headaches for our educators. When these teachers leave, we worry that there won’t be enough up-and-comers to replace them.

The data is telling, and it points toward a potential disaster in education in our region, where teachers appear to be growing weary enough to leave the profession and where thousands of jobs in other sectors remain tantalizingly unfilled.

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