Filling the Gap

Since 2018, SC-TEACHER has published working papers, fact sheets, infographics, annotated bibliographies, blogs, and first-person educator stories. SC-TEACHER has also crafted presentations for legislative members and staff and provided meaningful data insights to key education policy decision-makers. About eight months ago, I shared my thoughts on Setting the Vision for SC-TEACHER. As exciting as it may be to look back at our growing list of accomplishments since its launch, I hold even more enthusiasm for its future.

My optimism rests on the Center’s unique partnerships among state education agencies, higher education institutions, school districts, and national organizations.

My optimism rests on the Center’s unique partnerships among state education agencies, higher education institutions, school districts, and national organizations. Authentic partnerships take time to build requisite trust and require significant negotiation of priorities. Once established, these partnerships have not only led to a more coordinated effort around data sharing but also generated a “think tank” to address burning questions and a marshalling of expertise in K-12 and higher education to tackle these questions.

Against the backdrop of these partnerships and with significant data housing, security, analytic, and psychometric expertise, SC-TEACHER is poised to fill the gap for South Carolina’s education policy and practice initiatives. Below are a few of the ways in which SC-TEACHER is positioned and prepared to serve the state:

  1. Provide a research hub for campuses that focus on educator preparation. Educator preparation programs can be siloed, and promising practices often do not serve to elevate the collective. “In a true profession, the wisdom of the profession’s members finds its way into the most common methods” (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999, p. 179). By engaging faculty across educator preparation institutions and researching the practice of educator preparation, SC-TEACHER serves as the state’s hub for improving the practice of educator preparation, fueling greater collaboration among institutions in addressing supply and demand of teachers and school leaders – generating both outcomes and cost efficiencies.
  2. Engage practitioners working alongside researchers to improve education systems. No one is better positioned to articulate the needs of schools and districts than those who are charged with leading and working within it. A key component of retaining education professionals includes combining practitioner expertise with research and policy expertise for a comprehensive view of funding, policies and statutes, and empirical evidence, alongside practical implications of potential changes. In partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and three South Carolina districts, SC-TEACHER is already making progress on this work:
    • Documenting teacher and school leader innovations and how they can be aligned to support deeper, more equitable opportunities and outcomes for students;
    • Assessing the human capital assets and needs of school communities to support whole child education; and
    • Building a framework for a coherent system of educator development to inform legislative action, including compensation.
  1. Provide technical support and assistance to elevate collective practices. In addition to the South Carolina Teacher Exit Survey developed by SC-TEACHER in conjunction with district partners, South Carolina has an acute need for a teacher working conditions instrument designed by and for South Carolina. Teachers who work in schools with strong professional environments improve their effectiveness, over time, significantly more than their counterparts. Today, we know much more about the key factors of working conditions that influence teacher retention and student achievement. SC-TEACHER is well-positioned to both expand the Teacher Exit Survey, as well as build and deploy a South Carolina teacher working conditions initiative. It is one thing to gather and report on data and quite another to provide the technical assistance to districts and schools to use those data to engage and improve the professional lives of all educators serving students and communities. Engaging the full complement of partners allows for the development of toolkits alongside professional learning engagements to support districts in strategically using data in meaningful and specific ways. There is also significant value in universal graduate and employer satisfaction surveys used by all educator preparation programs in support of national accreditation and programmatic improvement. SC-TEACHER is well-positioned to provide this needed network for educator preparation.
  2. Provide evidence in support of the Commission on Higher Education Centers of Excellence Grant Program. The critically needed grants program led by CHE to support education quality through innovative professional development engagements has already benefitted from SC-TEACHER data. The FY22 priorities for funding included leadership/principalship preparation, STEM and literacy education, and retention in Lowcountry and Pee Dee regions – all of which were derived from SC-TEACHER reports. Allocating funding toward empirically-based evidence represents the surgical approach need to make the best use of available state and local funds.

The University is pleased to have the support for SC-TEACHER reflected in Gov. McMaster’s budget. The team of SC-TEACHER and I look forward to working with our current and future partners and stakeholders to act on the aggressive research agenda and data infrastructure that will serve the entire state in making more informed decisions based on nuanced data from all corners of the state across a variety of important and timely topics. Without a doubt, those concerned about the education of South Carolina’s children recognize the need for significant transformation. The children, families, and communities deserve decisions that are grounded in a cohesive data system designed to advance the educator workforce – now, more than ever.

Setting the Vision 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

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.