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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Education Professor’s Research Aimed at Improving Teacher Working Conditions – and Retention

By Isaiah Wright

Creating more equitable academic outcomes across all student groups is important for access to higher education. Rachel White, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Leadership at Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, hopes a new research project will help education practitioners and policymakers reflect on school working conditions in an effort to reduce turnover of quality teachers.

White is part of a team that received a $1.4 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences to conduct a a mixed-methods study of the relationship between working conditions, teacher turnover and equitable student outcomes. As part of a group of researchers from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the University of Virginia, White will lead the qualitative portion of the project.

Research indicates that high teacher turnover rates negatively impact student achievement. High teacher turnover is more prevalent in school districts that serve large proportions of low-income students and students of color. This new research aims to produce actionable information that can be used to inform VDOE's and the Virginia Board of Education's agenda on teacher working conditions.

"In another study I am conducting on superintendents' policy engagement, teacher working conditions and teacher retention were huge policy issues in my current research," White said. "I was drawn to this project because it looks at the relationship between teacher working conditions and teacher retention, and their connection to equitable academic outcomes across all student groups."

For the project, White will conduct interviews and focus groups with principals and teachers focused on educators' perceptions of working conditions and contexts and conditions that contribute to teacher retention. The research team will also distribute surveys to better understand opinions of working conditions in schools.

"Having a high-quality teacher in front of students is essential for student success, not only in K-12 but also after high school when a student pursues postsecondary education or a career," White said.

White is also the recipient of a Spencer Foundation award in which she is conducting a national survey of school district superintendents and interviewing district leaders to learn about their level of understanding and engagement in the state education policymaking process, and the factors that may cause them to engage - or not engage - in the process.

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