TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Start at the Beginning: Understanding the earliest part of the teacher pipeline can improve recruitment

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Understanding how and from where to recruit people into the teaching profession has long been a focus for researchers, education leaders, and policymakers, yet little research has been done on the earliest part of the teacher pipeline. If we were to trace the path new teachers take into the profession, could we identify the most fruitful sources of aspiring teachers who persist in earning a teaching credential?

This is the question that Goldhaber et al. sought to answer in a recent CALDER working paper. Specifically, the researchers asked:
  • What are the college pathways individuals with a teaching credential have taken to earn their teaching license; and
  • How do these pathways differ across the degree being earned (bachelor's versus master's degrees) and subject areas (STEM, special education, elementary, etc.)?
Focusing on newly credentialed teachers in Washington state who graduated from an educator prep program between 2014-2017, Goldhaber et al. created a retrospective picture of where individuals who earned a teaching credential were in the six years before they completed a teacher prep program. About two-thirds of the sample came into teaching via a bachelor's program, while a third came from a master's program. Some were already licensed and earning an additional license.

Unsurprisingly, the most common path for aspiring teachers who earned a bachelor's degree was to come straight from high school (40% of those who earned a bachelor's). More interestingly, nearly the same number (38%) were enrolled in a two-year college the year prior to entering their degree-granting program, suggesting two-year colleges could serve as a robust recruitment source for aspiring teachers who go on to earn a teaching credential.

Pathways were more varied for those earning a master's degree. The majority of master's graduates (45%) entered their credentialing institutions directly from the workforce, with a relatively even split among those who were in the labor market as teachers (who were earning an additional teaching credential), those who worked in education but weren't teachers, and those who worked outside education entirely. A third (30%) came directly from undergraduate programs, and 10% came from a two-year college.

Given that many districts experience teacher shortages in certain subject areas, the researchers also looked for patterns that could illuminate the most generative sources of STEM teachers, special education teachers, and elementary teachers. They found that a higher number of STEM and special education teachers earning a BA teaching credential went straight from high school into their degree-granting program (44% for each). In contrast, those who earned an elementary education degree were 1.3 times more likely to have come from a two-year college.

Pathways for candidates earning a master's degree also differed by subject area. For example, special education teachers were much more likely (58%) to have worked as a teacher prior to becoming a special education teacher or to have been employed in education as a non-teacher than candidates who studied other fields.

These data suggest Washington state might target special education teacher recruitment efforts by focusing on people with a bachelor's degree who are already working in education. Similarly, teacher prep programs should not only recruit from within their college/university but also target nearby community or two-year colleges.

While these findings only represent one state, they point to the importance of states collecting and analyzing teacher supply data to better understand the pathways candidates take into the profession and how, in doing so, states and educator prep programs could be more targeted in teacher recruitment efforts.