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Washington state teacher resignations at highest level in three decades

An analysis of Washington state data from the Calder Center found more teachers left the classroom last school year than at any point in the past 30 years.

SEATTLE — After a 30-year career in education, 52-year-old Mari Stevens said she knew it was time to leave the classroom.

Stevens, who last taught in the Issaquah School District, is not alone in putting in her resignation.

According to an analysis of Washington state data by the Calder Center, more teachers left the classroom in the past school year than at any point in the past three decades.

Washington state teacher attrition rates and teacher turnover overall, according to the analysis, are now at historic highs. 

The teacher attrition rate in 2022 was 8.91% - which is more than a percentage point higher than the attrition rate after any of the previous 37 school years. The analysis found the overall teacher turnover rate of 19.76% in 2022 is almost half a percentage point higher than the previous high covered by the data.

Stevens said she was not surprised by this trend.

"They are piling things on to teachers to the point that teachers are breaking," Stevens said. "I finally decided last year, I can't do that anymore."

Now, Stevens runs her own counseling practice. She works with parents, children and teens, working in a range of areas including executive functioning skills, anxiety, and depression.

Having taught in a few districts including the Beverly Hills School District in California, Stevens said she and some of her fellow teachers often felt like they were "just another body" in the school system.

"I always used to tell teachers, we are human beings teaching human beings," Stevens said. "We have to take care of ourselves in order to show up for the kids every day."

When it comes to any potential monetary incentives, Stevens said a bonus may have been "attractive" to her 20 years ago, but she said what teachers are going through is about more than salary and benefits.

"It's not about money at this point. It is about valuing the humans that know what they're doing," Stevens said. "These teachers are gifted - gifted educators, compassionate people. No one went into this job for the money. It's not about the money. It's about the value.”

Stevens said teachers need district administrations to listen to them.

"I, finally in my 52nd year of life, figured out that I was not going to be able to fix education from inside," Stevens said.

District-by-district resignations

KING 5 reached out to a few school districts across western Washington including Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, and Issaquah for direct data on total teacher resignations. 

Responses were received from each district but we have not yet heard back from Seattle Public Schools.

*This number indicates the number of resignations and retirements for the 2022-23 school year which is not yet final.

Tacoma School District

  • 2019-20: 125 resignations or retirements
  • 2020-21: 100
  • 2021-22: 148
  • 2022-23: *107

Everett School District

  • 2019-20: 78 resignations or retirements
  • 2020-2021: 83
  • 2021-2022: 97
  • 2022-23: *65

Issaquah School District

  • 2019-20: 104 resignations or retirements 
  • 2020-21: 186
  • 2021-22: 175

State superintendent's office "not surprised" by analysis

"Given what we have been seeing and hearing from districts across the state, the data are not entirely surprising," said Katy Payne, executive director of communication for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

According to OSPI, in a typical year, Washington state sees about a 7% teacher turnover rate.

OSPI said it uses a similar analytic methodology as Calder and expects to see a similar result when tracking an "unusually high turnover rate" for the current school year.

The analysis by Calder showed different turnover patterns for teachers in different stages of their careers. 

In 2021, the analysis noted turnover was driven primarily by mid-career and later-career teachers. However, by 2022, the third year of the pandemic - there was a notable increase in teacher turnover for early-career teachers, while the rate for later-career teachers barely changed relative to 2021. Recent turnover increases appear to be driven almost entirely by teachers with less than 10 years of experience. 

As for teachers switching school districts within Washington state, OSPI said this is not uncommon, but it is not seeing a statewide pattern.

"During the years of the pandemic, the rate at which teachers moved to a new district was lower than years before, and OSPI will be analyzing this current school year’s rate to see if this pattern has changed," Payne said. "There are some local contexts where a neighboring district may offer higher salary or better-negotiated benefits, and educators may be inclined to move."

Tacoma, Everett and Issaquah schools told KING 5 they are working on the next school year's outlook and some changes in teaching positions are on the horizon.

Due to a projected decrease in enrollment, Issaquah School District (ISD) said it plans to have 10 fewer full-time positions in the 2023-24 school year.

ISD said it has one .40 FTE teaching position open and said "ongoing recruiting efforts attracted enough quality candidates to fill openings," but with an exception for special education.

"We have struggled to fill [those] positions," said Lesha Engels, ISD executive director of communications and digital strategy.

In Snohomish County Everett Public Schools (EPS) said it has five total open special services and multilingual learners positions.

EPS reported a similar challenge as ISD when it comes to attracting enough quality candidates to fill special education positions.

The EPS Board approved a reduction plan on Feb. 28, but the district said, "many of those cuts could be by attrition."

In Pierce County, Tacoma Public Schools (TPS) reported a total of six current teacher vacancies.

"We have been able to recruit quality candidates," said Tanisha Jumper, of TPS communications. "Tacoma is a district of choice for employees, families and students."

TPS said it is currently working on its spring staffing process while awaiting budget decisions from the state legislature. 

"We are also monitoring student enrollments and will have final projections around staffing needs once all decisions and information are synthesized," Jumper said.


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