As the school year begins, teachers are stepping back into the classroom to tackle another year, but school systems across the country are struggling with teacher retention.
Dr. Luke Simmering, Director of Research at EPIC: Educator Perceptions and Insights Center and Louisiana Tech graduate, is a co-consultant for the Kansas Teacher Retention Initiative alongside Dr. Bret Church, a professor at Emporia State University.
The Kansas Retention Initiative is a data-driven and statistics-based approach to helping the school districts of the state understand the perspectives of educators who may be considering leaving the profession and what the school districts can do to better engage their faculty.
The Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), Kansas Association of School Boards, United School Administrators Kansas, and Emporia State University (ESU) provided funding to conduct the survey and deliver a state and district-level report to determine why educators choose not to remain in education.
In 2021, Kansas reported teacher vacancies are up 63%. Simmering and Church have a general understanding of what is causing the shortage. More teachers eligible for retirement are choosing to do so now, and many are choosing new careers. In addition, fewer college graduates are choosing education as a career. What they really want to know is why.
“It’s really understanding the mentality or the reasons why [educators] might leave or why they’re choosing a different profession, why they’re wanting to just completely get out of education all together to do something else,” Simmering said.
With the amount of data that is being collected through the study, Simmering looked to Louisiana Tech’s Applied Research for Organizational Solutions (AROS) group to help in analyzing the data.
AROS is a group of graduate students in the Industrial-Organizational Psychology program at Louisiana Tech under the supervision of Dr. Tilman Sheets, Dr. Mitzi Apter-Desselles, Dr. Frank Igou, and Dr. Steven Toaddy.
“Dr. Simmering’s willingness to work with our students through our AROS group is a great example of alumni giving back to Tech,” said Sheets. “It has provided our students with valuable hands-on experience working with a seasoned consultant.”
These College of Education graduate students analyzed data from over 200 school districts in the state of Kansas and provided feedback for the initiative. The data, compiled from a 10-minute survey, allow Simmering and Church to assist in consultations for school districts.
“Partnering with EPIC for their Kansas Teacher Retention Initiative was one of the most fruitful learning experiences that I had throughout my time with AROS,” said Sidney Thomas, an Industrial and Organizational Psychology doctoral student. “I felt confident in my abilities to work with a client and present data in a digestible way.”
As the Kansas Teacher Retention Initiative continues to bring understanding on the retention of educators in Kansas school districts, states like Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Missouri are reaching out to participate in the survey. As more states take part in their own research studies, AROS students will continue to work alongside the EPIC team.
“We look forward to our continued relationship with Luke as this project grows and expands to other states,” Sheets said.