Photo of CEHS NMUTR at Barringer High School

Project Summary

Our team is investigating the factors that influence the 5-year science teacher retention rates in four U.S. states (New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), with particular attention to the various forms of support that schools and districts provide in order to examine and describe high-quality induction and mentoring programs in identified school districts through a set of case studies that will promote best practices in design and implementation.

The goals of the study are to: identify broad patterns of new science teacher employment in the states of interest, identify districts in the targeted states that have been successful in retaining new science teachers, and to create case studies from selected successful districts in order to identify and disseminate best practices in mentoring and induction efforts.

Phase 1 (2018-2019): Using state teacher staffing data to identify retained science teachers

In this study, we use publicly available data to track the retention of individual secondary science teachers in four states over a ten year period. Using these data, we then identify candidate districts/LEAs for further case study based on their record of retention in the focus areas.  The four states in this study were chosen because they are high-population states with diverse populations, have a mix of rural, suburban, and urban school districts, and represent a range of teacher preparation and retention policy contexts.

Phase 2 (2019-2023): Case studies in 4 states

In the second phase, we plan to examine more closely districts that demonstrate high retention rates generally for science teachers to better understand the role of mentoring and induction programs, teacher pay, teacher age, department size, and other factors.

We estimate a sample of 15-20 school districts to be identified initially in each state, with the aim of representing the range of district characteristics and mentoring and induction programs present in the final selection of 5-6 case studies per state. This will include site visits for qualitative data collection. The case studies will address the best practices, structure and organization, funding, and critical issues in each district mentoring and induction program examined. The research structure will be to conduct one state study in each of years 2-5 of the project, beginning with New Jersey in year 2 in order to minimize travel costs while piloting and refining the data collection protocols.

Further Reading

Why is this research important?

In the United States, there remains a dire shortage of qualified science teachers. In the State of New Jersey, a preliminary analysis of staffing data shows that nearly 40% of all new science teachers are no longer teaching after four years, a statistic that has a greater impact in high-need schools. Nationally, the data suggests that efforts to maintain a robust science teacher workforce have been similarly hampered by the attrition of certified science teachers. A better understanding of the successful efforts to prepare, support, and retain science teachers has the potential to significantly reduce science teacher turnover across the country, and ultimately provide higher-quality science instruction to students in our nation’s schools as the shortage of highly qualified science teachers is reduced. Consequently, by fostering science teacher retention through mentoring and induction, more students will be taught by more experienced and highly qualified teachers.

Significant resources are being devoted towards the recruitment and preparation of science teachers, yet it is not well understood what components of mentoring and induction experiences represent best practices that could positively impact the retention of these teachers. A better understanding of the best practices for designing mentoring and induction experiences for new science teachers will have clear implications for both policy and practice. There is a particular need to ensure that science teachers, particularly those in high-need schools or those who identify as teachers of color are provided the necessary supports that allow them to become more effective teachers over time. This study will advance knowledge by investigating examples of such teachers with case studies.

In the State of New Jersey, approximately 250 new science teachers begin their first year of teaching every year. Yet after five years, over 50% are no longer teaching in NJ public schools. The issue of high rates of science teacher attrition is not unique to one state, however, and is in fact a critical problem nationwide. Existing research points to school working conditions, teacher autonomy, and out-of-field assignments as being the most important in teacher supply, yet this is a generalized finding, and little detail is available on the specifics of induction and mentoring across different school and district contexts. This study is an answer to calls by researchers for more research about how novice secondary science teachers learn and the types of induction experiences that can best support them.

Why these four states?

The four states in this study were chosen because they are high-population states with diverse populations, have a mix of rural, suburban, and urban school districts, and represent a range of teacher preparation and retention policy contexts. Additionally, school staffing data was made available by each of these states in order to track the employment of multiple cohorts of science teachers over the first five years of their employment.

How will this research make a difference?

There are a number of assumptions about the career trajectories of newly certified science teachers that have entered the conventional wisdom within the profession, yet have likely arisen from anecdotal evidence without the support of detailed empirical evidence from a large sample size. One of these is that attrition of science teachers is driven by teachers who love their subject matter yet become disillusioned with the amount of effort it takes to manage student behavior. Another is that teacher preparation programs are limited in their impact on retention because of the overwhelming importance of the individual school context into which they are hired. There is also the offering of stipends and scholarships (e.g., through Noyce) driven by an intention to ameliorate teacher shortages in high-need districts. Other ideas have more evidence backing them, such as the finding that STEM teacher mobility usually goes in the direction from less-wealthy to more-wealthy districts, and that out-of-field teaching assignments (e.g., a biology teacher assigned to teach physics) is correlated to teacher attrition. Yet even these findings are given in broad strokes, and there remains limited evidence on the specific issues that impact the retention and mobility of science teachers.

This research holds the promise of being able to better tie together both the theoretical and pragmatic approaches to working with new science teachers in some specific ways. First, in constructing a longitudinal database of new science teacher career trajectories, this study will be making a contribution to knowledge by providing clear and unambiguous evidence of the true nature of the problem at hand. If these data are useful as we anticipate they will be, it seems likely that the state of NJ and other states who currently collect these data could reconfigure their databases to run reports on 5- and 10-year retention rates based upon certification area. In NJ this could easily be done given the changes made by the USDOE Race to the Top grant received by the state. In a similar manner, the case studies of successful mentoring efforts by school districts have the potential to be shared widely by science education leaders and policy makers. One goal of the project is to produce actionable knowledge for policymakers, science education leaders, and school administrators in making decisions about mentoring new science teachers, and the theoretical advances in understanding from this project will be shared in publications as well as a statewide conference.