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.