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Pedagogical Preparation Linked to Higher Teacher Retention

First-year teachers with more opportunities to practice teaching skills under their belts appeared to stay longer in their teaching assignments, a new analysis of federal data concludes

That finding, from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, a research collaborative, isn't exactly a surprise, since improving pedagogy and student teaching has been one of the theories of action behind many of the latest innovations in teacher prep, such as teacher-residency programs.  

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the federal Schools and Staffing Survey from 2003-04 and its 2004-05 supplement, the Teacher Follow-Up Survey. The collection contains much background information on a nationally representative sample of teachers, and follow-up survey data from those who move or leave after a year. Using the data, the researchers developed four indicators of pedagogical preparation:

  • Whether the teacher had specific preparation in selecting instructional materials;
  • Coursework in learning theory or child psychology; 
  • Opportunities to observe others' classrom teaching; and
  • Feedback on their own instruction.

For the study, the researchers used statistical regressions to analyze the relationship between the measures and the likelihood that first-year teachers left within a year, controlling for teachers' background characteristics.

Here's a rundown of the results: 

  • Math and especially science teachers tended to have less pedagogical preparation than other teachers.
  • Beginning math and science teachers left teaching at higher rates at 14.5 percent and 18.2 percent respectively, compared to 12.3 percent for other teachers.
  • Teachers' choice of college, their degree, and their preparation route did not seem to have much of a bearing on their decision to stay or leave teaching.
  • First-year teachers who took more courses in teaching and methods were significantly less likely to depart, and those teachers with at least 12 weeks of practice teaching were three times less likely to leave than those with no practice teaching.
  • All of the four indicators of pedagogical preparation were significantly related to whether the teachers left teaching or not. This held up for science teachers, indicating that some of their higher attrition is explained by their general lack of pedagogical preparation.

Interpreting results for a descriptive study like this can be challenging, because the data are suggestive, but not causal. Still, the big takeaway here is that the content of preparation does appear to matter—even when new teachers come with strong math and science content backgrounds. 

It would also appear to bolster the work of scholars who are digging into the thorny question of pedagogical content knowlege and how it looks different for mathematics compared to other fields. 

That said, it's hard to know from this study what specific features of preparation make all the difference. The authors note that the measures are fairly crude and that "there is limited detail available on the intensity, duration, cost, or structure of these programs."

In fact, the report found that the amount of pedagogical preparation was variable, so it wasn't necessarily the case that teachers in traditional university-based programs got more training than teachers in alternative programs. 

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