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It is clear the research on teacher recruitment and retention is thin in many areas. Far too few questions permit being answered with the kind of confidence that would provide secure guidance for policy. To some extent, this may be a result of the difficulty of gaining access to studies on various recruitment and retention-related programs. Much more, however, it reflects the paucity of solid research on these questions.

Guarino et al. identified a number of implications from their review of the literature. What follows includes their suggestions for improving the research on teacher recruitment and retention, some of the suggestions and implications drawn from Ingersoll and Kralik, and some additional comments provided by the author of this ECS report:

  1. The data used by researchers must be more recent.

Most of the research available uses data from the 1970s and 1980s. Especially since so many of the considerations related to teacher recruitment and retention are economic and thus subject to the vicissitudes of the more general labor and employment market, research based upon economic conditions that existed even more than several years ago may have only limited relevance today. Guarino et al. note that the new Schools and Staffing Survey, which was conducted in the year 2000, is a welcome source of new data that undoubtedly will generate a number of new studies. The Schools and Staffing Survey, however, does not provide longitudinal data on individuals, which tracks them over a period of time and which, where available, provides important insights regarding longer-term trends and impacts.

  1. Better data on the movement of teachers through the entire career pipeline and from position to position, as well as data on teacher performance, need to be collected by the districts and states.

    Recruitment and retention is all about the movement of teachers. Many researchers have found, however, it is very difficult to obtain accurate and detailed data about teacher movement. Much of the available data is based on teachers' survey responses, which are often unreliable and incomplete. Large national data-collection efforts, such as the Schools and Staffing Survey, are expensive and impractical to do on an annual basis. Moreover, as large as these databases are, they still are not large enough to permit generalizations about teachers in different subfields in different regions.

    Thus, Guarino et al. suggest individual states hold the greatest promise for providing the data necessary for the kinds of studies that are indicated. In particular, Guarino et al. call upon states to collect data from schools and districts annually and to ensure such data include detailed information about teacher education, experience, compensation, as well as information about teacher vacancies, turnover and recruitment efforts. Especially important, and often omitted, are (1) information about the movement of teachers in and out of districts, and in and out of the education system; and (2) information about the quality and performance of individual teachers.

    Unfortunately, data that tracks actual changes in teacher assignments from school to school, district to district or state to state is extremely difficult to find. Once teachers leave employment in a particular district or state, it is often impossible to determine whether they have left the profession or taken a new teaching position elsewhere. It is vital to track teachers' entire career paths to gain a full picture of teacher employment patterns and responses of teachers to various kinds of outreach, incentives and working conditions.

    Echoing Guarino et al., the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) have published a report that explores in detail the kinds of data states need to collect to track teacher movement and develop a more complete picture of the nature of their teacher workforce, in general. The 2003 report, Data Systems To Enhance Teacher Quality, offers five recommendations:

    1. States should develop comprehensive data systems that provide information on teacher supply, teacher quality and teacher mobility. This includes information about teacher preparation, licensure and employment history, and the achievement of teachers' students.
    2. Key state players must work together to develop the kind of integrated system necessary. This includes policymakers, higher education institutions, local districts, state employment agencies and retirement systems.
    3. States must commit the financial and human resources necessary to develop and maintain such a system.
    4. States must develop a system that involves unique identifying numbers for each teacher to provide accurate longitudinal data.
    5. States should make the data collected available for analysis (with appropriate safeguards to ensure confidentiality) and should share the results of the analysis with policymakers, education leaders and the general public.

Although the movement of teachers from one state to another is still a relatively rare phenomenon, it is likely to become more common as our society grows increasingly more mobile. Thus, for administrative as well as research purposes, it will become increasingly important to be able to track the movement of teachers between states, tracking that requires much more cooperation among states than is currently the norm.

  1. Rigorous evaluation research of specific policies must become a greater priority.

Although the education literature includes many articles that discuss particular education policies, it contains few empirical studies of those policies. To remedy this and obtain reliable data on the effect of specific policy interventions, policymakers at all levels — school, district, state and federal — must make it a priority to provide adequate resources to undertake rigorous evaluations of the policies they develop and implement. Without such rigorous evaluation, it is impossible to know the true impact and lessons of policies that have been enacted.

  1. More rigorous research in general must be conducted in the area of teacher recruitment and retention, especially research that employs control or comparison groups.

While it may be extremely difficult to employ control groups in large-scale studies of the patterns of teacher employment or the effects of various teacher compensation policies, it is certainly reasonable to conduct studies of induction and mentoring or of programs designed to recruit or retain specific populations of teachers that use a comparison group and a treatment group. In some cases, it should even be possible to set up experimental studies or quasi-experimental studies to determine with much greater accuracy and confidence whether a particular strategy designed to enhance teacher recruitment or retention truly has an impact or whether any differences in the behavior or outcomes of the two groups is due to other considerations.

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© 2005 Education Commission of the States