Many college students who prepare to teach in public schools do not. Of those who do, many leave the profession after only a few years. And both those who enter and remain in teaching typically have lower test scores than their peers.
Those findings, from an Education Week analysis of the first major federal study to follow college graduates into the workplace. show that the beginning-teacher pipeline is riddled with leaks and faulty filters.
In the U.S. Department of Education’s Baccalaureate and Beyond study, researchers surveyed 10,080 students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 1992-93, and conducted follow-up surveys of those people in 1993-94 and 1996-97.
JBL Associates, a Bethesda, Md.-based research firm, conducted the statistical work for Education Week’s analysis.
Becoming a Teacher
That analysis reveals that 49 percent of the 1992-93 college graduates who had prepared to teach by graduation--either by earning a degree in education or by student teaching--had actually taught in a K-12 public school by 1996-97. Another 12 percent had taught in private schools or prekindergartens.
On the other hand, many young adults who had not initially planned to teach did so. The analysis found that by 1996-97, 31 percent of the 1992-93 graduates who had taught in public schools had not prepared to teach as undergraduates. That means a significant portion of novice teachers make the decision to teach sometime after graduating from college.
Quality matters as much as quantity. While the research on what makes a good teacher is far from conclusive, studies suggest that teachers’ verbal ability, as measured by standardized tests, makes a positive difference for student learning.
Education Week’s analysis tracked top-scoring college graduates, defined as those who had scored in the top 25 percent of everyone who took the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam. If higher scores on such exams do, indeed, make for more desirable teachers, policymakers have cause for concern.
- College graduates who actually taught in public schools by 1996-97 were much less likely to have scored in the top quarter on the tests (14 percent) than those who chose other professions (24 percent).
- College graduates who prepared to teach were less likely to have scored in the top quarter on college-entrance exams (14 percent) than those who didn’t prepare to teach (25 percent).
- Among those who prepared to teach, those who actually taught in a public school were less likely to have scored in the top group (12 percent) than those who did not teach in a public school (18 percent).
- Among graduates who majored in more “academic” subjects, including the sciences, mathematics, engineering, technology, or the liberal arts, those who chose not to teach were more than twice as likely to have scored in the top quarter (32 percent) than their peers who went on to teach in public schools (15 percent).
- The poorest schools were the most likely to employ teachers with the lowest scores. Forty-two percent of graduates who got teaching jobs in the poorest schools had exam scores near the bottom, compared with only 28 percent who got jobs in other public schools. (The poorest schools were defined as those where more than two-thirds of students were poor enough to qualify for federal free or reduced-price school lunches.)
Leaving the Classroom
The database also revealed that nearly one out of five people (19 percent) who graduated from college in 1992-93 and began teaching in the public schools by 1993-94 had left the classroom by 1996-97. And, taking into account what the remaining teachers told researchers about their plans for the following year, an estimated 3 percent more would have left the profession by 1997-98, for a total of 22 percent.
Moreover, the teachers who left were more often the ones policymakers were most concerned with attracting and keeping. Among the findings:
- Novice teachers who had scored in the top quartile on college-entrance exams were nearly twice as likely to leave the profession (26 percent) as those who scored below the top quartile (14 percent).
- Even among those who had earned an education degree or student-taught--a group with lower scores to begin with--novice teachers who remained in the classroom were only about half as likely to have scored in the top group (11 percent) than those who quit (20 percent).
- Teachers who did not participate in an induction program in their schools or districts were nearly twice as likely to leave the classroom (20 percent) as those who participated in such a program (11 percent).
- Teachers who reported dissatisfaction with student discipline and the school environment were twice as likely to leave the classroom (22 percent) as those who were not dissatisfied (11 percent).
What causes the attrition? That question deserves further research. But two findings support what many experts have long suggested: On-the-job support and workplace conditions matter.
However, the analysis did not find that teachers who were dissatisfied with societal views of teaching, student learning, or class size were statistically more likely to leave the profession than others.
A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 2000 edition of Education Week