Teaching Profession Opinion

Tackling Teacher Recruitment and Retention Challenges in Idaho

By Urban Education Contributor — February 19, 2018 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from REL Northwest (@relnw), which is located at Education Northwest (@educationnw). This post is by Jennifer Esswein, Leader - Training, Coaching, and Technical Support at Education Northwest, and Havala Hanson (@HavalaHanson), Senior Advisor, Data/Evidence Use at Education Northwest.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this research.

Why This Collaboration

When it comes to ensuring a state has a steady supply of well-trained teachers who want to stay in the profession, many stakeholder groups are involved—and they all play different roles.

For example, institutions of higher education prepare people to become teachers, school districts provide on-the-ground training and support for teachers, and state education agencies set policy that can impact teacher recruitment and retention.

Ultimately, however, they all want the same thing: To help students succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Each of these groups has a unique perspective, so when they are all facing the same challenge, it can be beneficial for an objective third party collaborator to bring everyone together and facilitate conversations.

This was recently the case in Idaho.

Several stakeholder groups—each with its own needs and responsibilities related to the state’s educator workforce—recognized a sense of urgency regarding the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers in Idaho.

However, each group was looking at the issue from a different point of view and getting different kinds of information, depending on their part of the educator pipeline.

In December 2017, based on conversations with individual stakeholders, REL Northwest convened a meeting with representatives from school districts, state education agencies, and institutions of higher education in Idaho.

The goal: Create a space for different stakeholder groups to discuss the situation regarding teacher recruitment and retention in the state.

This work was undertaken as part of the Idaho Educator Pipeline Alliancea research-practice partnership between REL Northwest and the Idaho Department of Education and other stakeholders—which is examining the state’s educator shortage and working to identify evidence-based solutions at the state and district levels for addressing it.

What The Collaboration Found

At the meeting, REL Northwest researchers shared the results of a recent report, “Idaho’s Educator Landscape.” Understanding how and where Idaho’s teacher workforce has changed relative to the size and characteristics of its student population can inform state and local efforts to support teacher recruitment, development, and retention.

The report examines statewide data from the 2011/12 through the 2016/17 school year on changes in student enrollment and demographics, teacher preparation and turnover, and the composition of the teacher workforce in Idaho.

Five key findings emerged. These include:

  • Overall student enrollment in Idaho grew by 6 percentage points between 2011/12 and 2016/17, with percentages of economically disadvantaged, special education, and English learner students remaining similar over time.

  • In each year of the study, about 1 in 5 teachers did not return to their school the following year.

  • The teacher workforce in Idaho is becoming less experienced, with teachers who have three years or less experience and those with alternative certificates making up a growing share of the workforce; this is especially true in rural, low-performing, and high-poverty schools.

  • Enrollment in Idaho’s teacher preparation programs is declining over time; however, the programs are still producing a similar number of completers.

  • Many schools are struggling to keep up with increasing enrollments of English learner students, in terms of teacher employment.

Source: Idaho’s Educator Landscape

Implications For Policy And Practice

Sharing these results was helpful because it provided all the stakeholder groups with the same data to work from--if everyone at the table has different information, it is difficult (if not impossible) to develop a common set of goals.

After the group learned about the results of the report, the ensuing discussions focused on three main topics:

1. What is going on with teacher recruitment and retention in Idaho?

2. What do we want to better understand?

3. What do we want to work on together?

Having identified mutual interests at the meeting, the group is now working with REL Northwest to determine potential research and analysis projects.

This experience demonstrates the benefit of having an external partner to collect and present data that all involved parties can use as a collective jumping-off point for discussion.

It also underscores how powerful it can be when different stakeholder groups come together to address a shared challenge--and how productive relationships can deepen a research-practice partnership.

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