The intersection of science teacher retention, attrition, and migration with accountability reform in rural Georgia
Hodges, Georgia Wood
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The school districts of the United States of America seek to provide all students with a high quality, state-funded education that will prepare them to succeed in life beyond their school years. Of utmost importance to scholars, educators, policymakers, and the general public is the goal that each student receives an equitable education, regardless of his/her race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, or geographical location. As a component of the No Child Left Behind Act (2002), the educational system has placed much greater emphasis on testing and accountability measures to indicate whether or not students, teachers, school districts, and states are achieving their goals of educational excellence. Scholars, policymakers, and parents assert that the individual teachers play pivotal roles in the learning experiences of students. Thus, the ability to staff schools with highly qualified teachers is of utmost importance. Research suggests that the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), face a more difficult task than other educational disciplines in recruiting and retaining teachers. Within rural areas, this teacher retention problem is magnified for all subject disciplines, exacerbating the problem of retaining STEM teachers. The purpose of the study presented here was to examine the robustness of the science teaching profession during this time of top-down accountability through an exploration of the retention, attrition, and migration of science teachers in one subset of Georgia schools. Data analysis focused on the individual tensions that science teachers faced when deciding whether or not to remain in teaching. Using purposive sampling, the science teachers from four contiguous counties were asked to participate in this study of career trajectory. The schools were chosen, because of their rural geographic location as well as the demographic characteristics of the students within the school. Research suggests that rural and urban schools characterized by a majority of African American students are the most difficult schools to adequately staff. Using in-depth qualitative methods, the findings from the research study suggest that neither geographic location nor student demographics fully explained the career trajectory decisions made by the highly qualified teachers studied. Rather, teachers grappled with multiple tensions that influenced their career trajectory. The tensions centered on the following four dimensions of the science teaching profession: (a) the differences between novice and experienced teachers’ interpretations of context-related tensions, (b) the impact of accountability measures within the schools, (c) the power of teacher unity on student success, and (d) the ways that cultural myths impacted the schools studied.