Educators’ career paths could hold the key

Margarita Pivovarova, assistant professor, and Jeanne Powers, associate professor, were honored with a 2016 Education Research Service Project award from the American Educational Research Association. They will begin their project, "An Analysis of Teachers' Career Paths in Arizona: Retention, Mobility and Attrition," with the Arizona Department of Education later this year.

This AERA award program encourages researchers to offer pro bono expertise to educational organizations that have identified a need for assistance. A 2015 ADE task force report found that approximately 24 percent of first-year teachers in Arizona leave the profession, compared to the national average of 7.5 percent. The publication also identified a need for additional quality research on this issue.

In their project narrative, Pivovarova and Powers report a positive association between instruction by more qualified, experienced or effective educators and higher student achievement. Previous research demonstrated that unstable learning environments as a result of teachers leaving schools negatively affects students’ academic achievement. High rates of teacher attrition are also costly to schools and create additional workloads for veteran teachers. Pivovarova and Powers will use statewide teacher employment data to examine teacher retention in Arizona with regard to school level, location, demographics and other data.

Though the ADE task force report highlighted basic indicators of a teacher retention problem, Pivovarova said there is little detailed, statewide information about teacher career patterns in Arizona over time. This project will lead to creation of a longitudinal database allowing researchers to document and analyze teachers’ career paths including different aspects of retention and attrition. Powers and Pivovarova plan to examine patterns of retention related to school and district-level factors. “Our retention rates in Arizona are a very pressing concern when we compare our state to others,” Pivovarova said. “Ultimately, we will create a database that will be useful in seeing patterns related to this issue.”

Powers said, “I’ve analyzed school staffing issues before, but not teachers’ career paths. Our state has a wide variety of large and small districts with many different demographic characteristics, and our research will take all of that into account.”

Powers is a sociologist of education and her research focus is on school choice, accountability, finance and how social science research is used by decision-makers. Pivovarova’s primary research interest is in the economics of education with a focus on peer interaction in classrooms.

The research team is awaiting data from ADE, with a plan to share research findings at the spring 2017 AERA annual meeting.