Education researchers from Kansas and Missouri are collaborating on a National Science Foundation-funded project that could have important implications for the economic growth of their states — and ultimately, the nation.
According to Kansas State University, armed with a longitudinal understanding of the need for a STEM-ready workforce, Tuan Nguyen, principal investigator and assistant professor in KSU’s College of Education, was awarded a $500,000 grant from NSF to examine employment patterns and trends of teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields. J. Cameron Anglum, assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Education, is the co-principal investigator.
The title of their study is “Preparing for the Future of the STEM Teacher Workforce in the 21st Century: Leveraging Multi-contextual Evidence.”
“We endeavor to shed light on the evolution of the STEM teacher labor force and the factors that influence STEM teacher turnover as this analysis is crucial to inform actionable recruitment and retention practices, particularly in high-needs school contexts,” Nguyen said. “This proposal identifies a crucial area of research aimed to inform educational policies and interventions in support of student growth in STEM fields, which is the detailed identification of trends in the demographics and turnover behaviors of the STEM teacher workforce.
According to the researchers, jobs in STEM fields are projected to grow disproportionately over the next decade, which translates to the critical need for more STEM teachers.
“If educators and administrators have the data they need to craft key policies and can use that information to mitigate factors that contribute to teacher attrition, that is not only good for students and schools, it seems reasonable to conclude it is equally good for economic growth,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen and Anglum’s project includes two complementary studies that leverage distinct sources of data. The first study relies on nationally representative data using the Schools and Staffing Survey and its updated version, the National Teacher and Principal Survey, to examine how STEM teacher characteristics have changed in the 21st century. The second study uses longitudinal data from Kansas and Missouri to examine trends in teacher mobility over time and how the pandemic may have influenced STEM teachers.
“Teaching is the parent of all professions,” said Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education. “We need highly qualified, engaged teachers leading classrooms who can inspire every iteration of the next generation of veterinary and food scientists, medical researchers, engineers and tech innovators to open the doors of our future.”
Mercer said Nguyen’s research is the college’s most recent effort at supporting STEM in Kansas. For more than a decade, the college has hosted the Summer STEM Institute, which brought more than 300 middle school students to campus. During the pandemic, the event was offered virtually. This year, the institute was on campus and virtually so students in rural communities — as well as 500 international students — could participate in high-quality STEM programming designed by STEM teachers.
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