Reflections on AEFP 2023

Naomi @AEFP with Aaron Park, 2022 Summer Fellow

I attended the 48th Annual Conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) in Denver, Colorado from March 22-25th. I presented two papers, including one from The Learning Partnership.

First, I presented “Investigating how Chicago Public Schools Computer Science Teachers and Instructional Coaches Navigated Remote Professional Development During COVID-19” from The Learning PartnershipThis paper discussed findings from our qualitative analysis of computer science (CS) teachers’ and instructional coaches’ experiences with professional development (PD) – specifically, the NEXT PD series supported by a RAPID Collaborative Research Grant (NSF) – during COVID-19. We found that the PD series reinforced instructional strategies and increasingly centered teacher engagement and wellbeing. Teachers primarily valued the relational aspects of PD, including collaboration with other teachers and personalized support from the instructional coaches. Situating the PD series within the context of COVID-19, we found that the pandemic and remote learning contexts amplified, rather than created, the PD challenges experienced by teachers and coaches, while also providing opportunities for innovation with different PD and coaching structures. Findings suggest that districts should expand and invest in individual and small group instructional coaching opportunities and that PD can be designed to address teachers’ instructional and emotional needs. The session chair, Dr. Li Feng (Texas State University), posed several thoughtful questions about our paper. She asked how our findings could generalize to PD experiences for teachers of other content areas during the pandemic and if there is reason to believe that CS teachers’ experiences were uniquely challenging during the pandemic.

This paper was in a session with three other papers focused on the teacher labor market for STEM teachers. Kristi McCann (University of Colorado – Colorado Springs) presented on teacher employment outcomes from the UTEACH teacher pipeline program. Paul Bruno (University of Illinois) presented on CS teacher characteristics and whether it matters for student outcomes. Using data from North Carolina, Bruno found that CS teachers (without a CS background) are often more experienced and more qualified than other teachers. He speculated that this could be because districts highly value CS education and want their most experienced teachers in those roles, or that veteran teachers might be seeking opportunities to try something new. Either way, Bruno cautions that while these findings might be positive for the expansion of CS education, it raises questions about the impacts of having less experienced teachers teach other subjects. Finally, Feng presented on the impact of a scholarship program on local STEM teacher shortages and student outcomes. Another key takeaway that came out of this presentation is that teacher candidates in a pipeline program (i.e., UTEACH) may be hired at the school where they did their residency or student teaching. In other words, these teacher candidates never enter the “labor market” or if they do, it’s a very small and localized market. This is a positive development for the teacher pipeline but can make it challenging to study the teacher labor market.

Next, I presented a quantitative study drawing on my dissertation data with co-authors Cora Wigger (Elon University) and Claire Mackevicius (Northwestern University), “Investigating the ‘Draw of Home’ and Teachers’ Career Decisions” in Session 4.09 Teacher Labor Supply: Occupational Choices. This paper explored the relationship between teaching near home and retention. We found that, all else being equal, teaching in one’s home state is positively associated with teaching longer, and that this relationship is stronger for low-income and non-white teachers. Our findings have important implications for grow-your-own teacher preparation programs and others efforts to recruit/train community-based teachers. Findings suggest that expanding pathways for individuals to teach near home and/or nudging teacher candidates to seek out jobs closer to home could have positive effects on teacher retention. This paper was in a session with two other papers about the teacher labor market. The first was a paper by Matt Kraft (Brown University) and Melissa Lyon (SUNY Albany) about the “decline” of the teaching profession over the past few decades. The second paper by Alvin Christian, Matt Ronfeldt, and Basit Zafar (University of Michigan) explored how information about the teaching profession might “nudge” or increase college students’ interest in the teaching profession.

One of the sessions I attended was titled K12 Racial Diversity and Matching and included three papers about the relationship between teacher-student or teacher-teacher race matching and retention and strategies/barriers to increase the diversity of the teacher workforce. I was especially impressed by Shirley Xu and Jason Grissom’s (Vanderbilt University) mixed methods study, which explored barriers and strategies for diversifying the teacher workforce in Tennessee school districts. As part of a larger mixed methods project, they used qualitative methods and sense-making theory to analyze how district HR leaders perceive and prioritize (or not) increasing teacher diversity in their districts. Interestingly, most participants in their study recognized the importance of teacher diversity, and in particular, the research on positive outcomes for students of color (particularly Black students) when they have at least one teacher who shares their background. However, much of their focus centered on recruitment and hiring and less on creating positive and supportive working conditions that can keep teachers of color in the classroom. I would like to see this paper in conversation with the session on educator preparation and teacher labor market for STEM and computer science teachers and if there are papers on teacher-student race matching in STEM subjects.

In addition to presenting papers and attending sessions, I participated in the annual AEFP 5K Run in downtown Denver. It was below 30 and still dark out at 6:30am, but we all had a great time building community through exercise and had several boxes of Voodoo donuts waiting for us at the finish line.

Finish of the AEFP 5k Run