CEISMC Researchers Complete National NSF Study on Retention of Early Career K-12 STEM Teachers


Retaining early career teachers in underserved schools has been the subject of a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant in which researchers from the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) examined the self-efficacy and social networks of teachers participating in the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

Now in its 20th year, the Noyce program provides funding to universities for scholarships, stipends, and programmatic support to recruit and prepare highly qualified K-12 science and math teachers in high-need school districts. 

The exploratory study was conceived by Meltem Alemdar, CEISMC’s associate director for educational research and evaluation, who had served as an external evaluator on four different Noyce projects over several years.

The researchers, which included co-principal investigators Jessica Gale, CEISMC senior research scientist, and Christopher Cappelli, former CEISMC senior research scientist now at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recruited about 160 Noyce Fellows in 50 programs across 30 states to participate in the national study.

A new survey was developed using an innovative methodology called social network analysis in which patterns of social ties among network individuals were quantitatively measured. Teachers completed the Teacher Personal Network Survey that asked about their school support structures, personal networks, and attitudes of self-efficacy as related to their Noyce program participation. Follow-up telephone interviews were conducted with a smaller sample of participants.

“Some of our results showed that teachers who have more connected networks are more likely to remain in high-need schools,” said Alemdar. “Additionally, our results showed the importance of expanding teachers’ networks and the significance of receiving unique types of support from the various people within teachers’ networks.”

Other compelling findings include: 

  • Noyce Teachers’ Self-Efficacy and Retention: Although self-efficacy was not significantly correlated with retention, correlations were found between teaching self-efficacy and several Noyce program characteristics. This study found positive relationships between Noyce teachers’ teaching self-efficacy and several Noyce program characteristics: mentorship, high-need pre-service teaching experience, professional learning community participation, being observed by Noyce faculty, and job-finding assistance.
  • Sources of Self-Efficacy: Although teaching self-efficacy is associated with many benefits for teachers and students, little is known about how it develops in the early years of a teacher’s career. Teachers with less experience reported lower self-efficacy for classroom management and instruction and identified more negative enactive experiences. In interviews, teachers described how sources combined or interacted to influence their self-efficacy. Science teachers reported significantly more negative mastery experiences than mathematics teachers in the sample. Findings contribute to better understandings of the sources of self-efficacy with implications for how best to support teachers in different disciplines and at different stages of their careers.
  • Noyce Program Characteristics and Retention: This study identified a set of nine characteristics of Noyce programs that were positively correlated with retention. This indicates that when a teacher was exposed to these program characteristics, there was an overall increase in the likelihood that they would remain in a high-need school. Qualitative analysis revealed that teachers identified three major categories of support provided by Noyce programs as increasing their likelihood of retention in high-need schools: support from Noyce faculty, support from the Noyce teacher network, and training and support offered by Noyce programs.

A detailed summary of results is highlighted in the first chapter of the newly released Research in Practice: Preparing and Retaining K-12 STEM Teachers in High-Need School Districts published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Alemdar co-led a panel about the book as part of the 2022 Noyce Summit that was held in Washington, D.C. in July.

—Joëlle Walls and Angelica Jones, CEISMC Communications 

Meltem Alemdar, CEISMC associate director for Research and Evaluation
Jessica Gale, CEISMC senior research scientist