The Use of Grounded Theory to Investigate the Role of Teacher Education on STEM Teachers' Career Paths in High-Need Schools

Article excerpt

Research consistently indicates that teachers play a role in student achievement (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 1999; Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000; National Research Council, 2000; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005). Licensure, a degree in the subject area, and performance on academic measures seem to affect student achievement positively, while teachers lacking those credentials can negatively affect their students (e.g., Clotfelter, Ladd, & Vigdor, 2007). However, teachers with these qualifications are unequally distributed across schools, with high-poverty schools often staffed with underqualified teachers compared to their wealthier counterparts (e.g., Ingersoll, 2001, 2003; Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002).

The problem is particularly acute in science and mathematics. For example, Ingersoll (2008) reported that over 40% of low-income students are taught by out-of-field mathematics teachers compared to 16% of their wealthier counterparts. Jacob (2007) reported that urban schools often have much higher vacancy rates in mathematics and science than suburban schools and often fill their vacancies with substitute teachers or those without full certification. Teachers also tend to leave high-need environments for schools with lower percentages of minority students, students of higher socioeconomic status (SES), and better wages (Ingersoll, 2001; Lankford et al., 2002). High-need schools have difficulty not only with staffing their classrooms with well-qualified teachers but also with retaining those teachers.

The unequal distribution of teachers is due to a myriad of reasons, including economic, cultural, and geographic influences (e.g., Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005; Guarino, Santibanez, & Daley, 2006; Johnson & Birkeland, 2003) and personal considerations (e.g., Ingersoll, 2001; Stinebrickner, 2002). These elements together influence where teachers choose to teach and whether they remain in teaching. Additionally, teacher education programs often provide specialized coursework, training, and support to prepare teachers for high-need schools, and they can influence the career paths of their graduates. However, our understanding of the role of teacher education programs on teachers' career paths is limited in that much existing research focuses on comparisons between different types of programs such as alternative and traditional programs (e.g., Fisk, Prowda, & Beaudin, 2001) or has investigated outcomes related to a single teacher education program (e.g., Freedman & Appleman, 2009; Quartz et al., 2004), which may be subject to biases related to individual programs. Therefore, a different approach may be beneficial to broaden our understanding of the impact of teacher education on teachers' career paths in high-need schools.

This study used grounded theory to investigate the role of teacher education programs on the career paths of 38 Noyce scholarship recipients ("scholars"). The participants completed teacher education programs across the United States, and a grounded theory approach allowed us to investigate inductively the relative impact of their teacher education programs on their career paths. Our emergent design was guided by the initial research question: "What are Noyce scholars' reasons for the decisions made on the career paths of becoming and remaining teachers in high-need schools?" We did not seek to deduce explicitly the role of teacher education on our participants' career paths, but rather, important areas of influence emerged through our grounded theory approach, one of which was their teacher education programs. We chose to focus this study on teacher education programs because they may be more easily manipulated by teacher educators.

Theoretical Framework

A problem of utmost concern is that high-need schools, such as those with high levels of student poverty and high percentages of minority students, often experience shortages of well-qualified (see Darling-Hammond, 1999) teachers (e. …