Setting the Vision for SC-TEACHER

by Dr. Thomas E. Hodges,  Interim Dean of the College of Education at UofSC and Director for SC-TEACHER

In 2018, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, through the Commission on Higher Education’s Centers of Excellence competitive grant program, identified “Effective Teacher Training” as the explicit focus for the 2018 – 2019 funding cycle. Topics included:

  • Development of a Center of Excellence in Alternative Certification
  • Development of a Center of Excellence in Recruitment and Retention of Minority Teachers
  • Development of a Center of Excellence in Research of Teacher Education

The message received regarding the intentions for the center for research on teacher education was clear: South Carolina lacked the sort of state-specific data and analysis to help guide policy and practice decisions – at both the state house and schoolhouse. The center should be modeled after centers in other states that have analyzed state and national data in an effort to uncover state-level nuances and drive educational advancement efforts.

The University of South Carolina was uniquely positioned to lead the research of teacher education work given its extensive expertise in psychometrics and analysis, large scale data management, as well as its standing as a Carnegie-rated “Very High Research Activity” institution while holding the largest educator preparation program in South Carolina. Our proposed center, the South Carolina Teacher Education Advancement Consortium through Higher Education Research (SC-TEACHER), established as its primary goal to “understand, through comprehensive research, the impact of teacher education recruitment, preparation and retention activities on teacher effectiveness.” SC-TEACHER sought to understand unique features of South Carolina’s teacher shortage, as well as explore novel educator preparation programs and practices. Following a successful review, SC-TEACHER was launched in Fall 2018.

While SC-TEACHER is housed at the University of South Carolina, its independence is critical. Leveraging the skills and expertise available is important to its success, but its work was, is, and must continue to be independent.

While SC-TEACHER is housed at the University of South Carolina, its independence is critical. Leveraging the skills and expertise available is important to its success, but its work was, is, and must continue to be independent. Partnerships with internal centers, such as the Research, Evaluation and Measurement Center, and the Center for Applied Innovation and Advanced Analytics, provide expert data and analytic skills outside of our educator preparation units. Key external partners, such as the Learning Policy Institute, Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (housed at UNC-Chapel Hill), and the Center for Teaching Quality all bring important guidance, modeling, communication, and design work to SC-TEACHER. Furthermore, these partners provide important alignment to national conversations around teacher pipeline challenges. Lastly, the partnership with the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) has led to key data sharing and co-authorship work.

Thus far, SC-TEACHER has expertly managed available funding to deepen our understandings of the teacher pipeline and drive conversations around needed policy and practice. The Center has engaged with a wide variety of voices via blogs and stories, including practicing educators, education leaders and other experts on key issues. Work Paper Series I provided a wealth of information on baseline efforts towards recruitment, preparation and retention through a series of seven publications that included research papers, infographics and fact sheets. Working Paper Series II represented South Carolina’s first efforts to combine state data with a variety of other data sources for a more comprehensive look at South Carolina’s teacher workforce, including profiles of the South Carolina teacher workforce, school level factors associated with retention, the uniformity of teacher vacancies, and the relationship between teacher retention and talent centered leadership. Finally, SC-TEACHER has demonstrated its ability to take up emergent issues, such as COVID-19, to understand workforce challenges in novel contexts.

With all of SC-TEACHER’s successes, we have only begun to gather data and provide the sort of analytic work necessary to move education professions forward. For instance, SC-TEACHER is piloting a teacher exit survey, modeled after the National Center for Educational Statistics School and Staffing Survey, with partnering districts. This survey should be administered statewide to provide a comprehensive look at drivers for teachers exiting the classroom. When combined with other state-level data, we can truly answer the question of why South Carolina teachers leave the classroom. Additionally, SC-TEACHER is poised to lead South Carolina in the following ways:

  • Form and convene a commission to conduct a detailed assessment of the current data infrastructure and construct a unified data upload system
  • Design and deliver a much-needed teacher working conditions survey that includes key constructs known to influence the educator labor market. This should be accompanied by a district toolkit so that school districts can unpack data and address key areas for growth
  • Design and deliver universal graduate and employer satisfaction surveys
  • Reconcile educator preparation program, State Department of Education, district, and SC-TEACHER gathered data

Those interested in the quality and performance of public education must rely on strong data and analytic strategies driven by higher education institutions with the capacity to take up that work.

SC-TEACHER anticipates continued modest funding through FY22, but beyond that date, will need investments to ensure that it can both continue and extend its teacher pipeline policy and practice efforts to address the needs of South Carolina’s children. Those interested in the quality and performance of public education must rely on strong data and analytic strategies driven by higher education institutions with the capacity to take up that work. SC-TEACHER’s future is dependent upon investments made similar to many higher achieving states in such work. The outcomes thus far are a strong demonstration of SC-TEACHER’s efficacy in serving this critical role for South Carolina.


Teacher Workforce Demographics and Data:
A Deeper Dive with Working Paper Series II

by Dr. Thomas E. Hodges, Director for SC-TEACHER and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Education at UofSC

In just two years, one of which continues to be impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Carolina Teacher Education Advancement Consortium through Higher Education Research (SC-TEACHER), our state’s Center for Research on Teacher Education, has already provided numerous insights into policy and practice issues related to the recruitment, preparation, and retention of South Carolina’s teacher workforce. A variety of education leaders and stakeholders have lent their voices to speak on pressing issues impacting the teacher pipeline. To establish a current state of affairs, SC-TEACHER commissioned Working Paper Series I: Setting the Baseline for South Carolina. These seven papers, complete with fact sheets, infographics, and in several cases, recorded webinars, provide a rich understanding of projects undertaken across the state. Researchers from both public and private higher education institutions across South Carolina contributed to Series I. From the recruitment of traditionally underrepresented groups, to alternative pathways, and mechanisms for embedded learning experiences in preparation programs and Professional Development Schools, Series I serves to define the landscape of recruitment, preparation, and retention efforts in our state.

As the pandemic impacted every facet of our lives, including the teacher pipeline, SC-TEACHER, along with leadership from ALL4SC, and support from the South Carolina Department of Education, Palmetto State Teachers Association, and The South Carolina Education Association, conducted state-wide research that led to Teachers and Teaching in the Midst of a Pandemic:
Implications for South Carolina’s Policy Leaders. This state-wide survey and focus group work laid bare the myriad of challenges teachers faced as they engaged in emergency distance teaching over the last few months of the 2019-2020 academic year. As the research makes clear, an undeniable value of a center such as this is the ability to quickly ramp up research and development efforts to address emergent policy and practice needs in South Carolina.

Against the backdrop of our successes over the past two years, I am excited to announce a pivot in our upcoming publications associated with Working Papers Series II: What We Know about the SC Teacher Workforce. Through our partnership and data sharing agreement with the South Carolina Department of Education, we have spent the last several months cleaning and compiling large scale data sets for analysis. Each of the upcoming papers, written in collaboration with the methodological and psychometric expertise housed in the Research, Evaluation and Measurement Center at the University of South Carolina, will provide a rich understanding of characteristics of the teacher workforce in South Carolina. These papers connect those data gathered in our partnership agreement with other publicly available data, such as the School Report Card. Written over the last several months, we believe these papers provide a unique and far more granular look into the characteristics of our teacher workforce in schools and districts. And while there are key take-aways from each paper, they also aim to highlight further data needs in our state that will help to provide an even clearer picture upon which policy and practice decisions can be made.

The first paper in Series II profiles the demographics of the South Carolina teacher workforce, including relationships to the geographic and socio-economic context of the schools in which teachers work. The second paper will explore issues of teacher retention in relation to school level factors. This groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind work for South Carolina will allow policymakers and practitioners to understand the impact of certain school factors and target resources to teachers and schools in most need. The third paper will focus on issues of poverty and academic performance, as well as school climate in South Carolina, with implications for teacher education and professional development. Subsequent papers will continue to elevate our current understanding of the South Carolina teacher workforce.

SC-TEACHER, established with Centers of Excellence funding through the Commission on Higher Education, is now in its third year of a four-year grant. If South Carolina is to make data-driven policy and practice decisions around its teacher workforce, there is an acute need for SC-TEACHER to extend well beyond this initial four-year period. SC-TEACHER is poised to analyze available data, as well as make recommendations around data needs in the years to come. In collaboration with the Center for Teacher Quality, SC-TEACHER serves as an incubator for systemic change, including extending the architecture for data infrastructure, engaging in working conditions survey development and deployment, and providing tailored reports and professional development on analysis and action. To fulfil this vision, SC-TEACHER needs a continuing financial commitment from our state.

It is a true honor to serve as Director of SC-TEACHER. Working Paper Series II is an exciting next step in the work of the center, one that I am confident will serve communities, schools, families, and policymakers alike.