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Teachers from graduate program stay longer in schools

April 1, 2013
By Marguerite Rigoglioso
Rachel Lotan
Rachel Lotan
Ira Lit
Ira Lit
Unlike national teacher retention rates, the vast majority of STEP alumni are still in the classroom years after graduating.

In the field of education, the phrase “dropout rate” generally sends chills down the spine of any teacher, administrator, or policy maker. But as educators are aware, it’s not just students who skip out on the primary or secondary school experience. Roughly 40 percent or more of new teachers in the United States leave the classroom within the first five years of entering the profession. Lack of resources and support, the pressures of testing and accountability, social complexities, and bureaucratic realities do much to kill the flame of many an idealistic youth who starts out determined to make a difference.

The Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) is proving that such a depressing scenario need not be the case. A recent survey of graduates’ professional pathways has shown that nearly 80 percent of Stanford alumni-turned-teachers who have been out five years are still in the profession. Looking at graduates over the last ten years, the survey reveals that approximately 75 percent are still currently teaching, as well, and that of the other 25 percent, many have remained in education in leadership roles.

“These are very high retention rates,” said Ira Lit, who directs STEP Elementary and is co-author of the study.

Rachel Lotan, director of STEP Secondary and the study’s other author, added: “Our survey response rate was an impressive 90 percent, which is unheard of. So we know not only that this study paints an accurate portrait of our alumni, but also that it reflect their level of commitment to Stanford.”

The survey reveals graduates’ commitment to something else, as well: providing quality instruction to the underserved. More than half of the graduates work in Title 1 schools –– institutions in which at least 40 percent of students qualify for free lunch –– thus suggesting that the majority of STEP-educated teachers are working with low-income children. “Given that many of our graduates also work for independent schools that are not eligible for Title 1, the number of them serving such students is probably higher than the 57 percent of our study,” said Lit. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 47.5 percent of students in the United States are eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

For a program whose core values includes a commitment to social justice, an understanding of the strengths and needs of a diverse student population, and a dedication to equity and excellence for all students, these statistics are heartening.

“STEP prides itself on preparing teachers to work with diverse learners and to create equitable and successful schools and classrooms,” said Lotan. “We do so in part by attracting a diverse candidate pool –– half are students of color and a significant number are first-generation college goers –– whereas most K-12 teachers are white and middle class. That diversity is possible because of the financial aid we make available.

“So this is not a story of the privileged teaching the privileged,” she explained. “STEP graduates are often themselves from lower-income families, and they go out to provide quality education to those who need it most.”

Even in these challenging economic times for teacher employment, the survey confirms that STEP has a nearly 100 percent job placement rate –– and that most graduates enjoy a high level of job satisfaction. More than 84 percent work in public schools and the same percentage work in California, mostly in the Bay Area. A high 95 percent serve in leadership roles, as well, ranging from sports coach to department chair to founder of a new school. Among their ranks can be found teachers of the year and Department of Education teacher ambassadors in Washington, DC.

STEP is a 12-month program that integrates academic study of pedagogy, curriculum development and other education topics, with a well-supported, yearlong classroom placement. Upon completion of the program, graduates receive a masters degree in education and a preliminary California Teaching Credential in a specific subject area. STEP includes two divisions that focus, respectively, on preparing elementary school teachers and secondary school teachers.

Graduates of STEP Elementary receive a multiple-subject credential; graduates of STEP Secondary receive a single-subject credential in one of the following subject areas: English, history-social science, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry, earth science, or physics), or world languages (French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, or Spanish). Typically about 95 students enroll each year.

Few other programs combine both the academic rigor — taught by tenure-line Stanford faculty who are leaders in their field — with clinical experience that includes direct supervision in class and mentorship by experienced teachers, program advisors and instructors. STEP has been cited by leading foundations as a model for other programs nationwide, and international educators regularly attend a week-long seminar to learn about its approach.

“The study affirms that we are working to revitalize the teaching profession,” said Lit. “It’s great news for our program, our alumni, the field of education –– and our nation’s children.”

The full report is available on the STEP website at

Marguerite Rigoglioso writes frequently for the Stanford Graduate School of Education.