Support. Collaborate. Retain: Strategies for Improving the STEM Teaching Crisis

Support. Collaborate. Retain: Strategies for Improving the STEM Teaching Crisis

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One of the most often-cited reasons for the STEM achievement gap is a lack of skilled and trained STEM teachers. The greatest percentage of under-qualified teachers at the K-12 level is found in STEM disciplines – 40 percent of high school math teachers and 20 percent of science teachers in high needs areas lack a higher education degree in the subject they instruct.

The recruitment of highly qualified teachers into the STEM teaching workforce has received a tremendous amount of attention in the past few years. And groups—from Teach for America to the New York City Teaching Fellows— have demonstrated that our nation’s very best students are willing to become teachers. But once teachers are in the classroom, they often experience poor workplace conditions, lack of support from peers and school leadership, and pay that does not reflect their qualifications or amount of work. Without solving the retention crisis, America has little chance of making a dent in the education crisis.

This report discusses what teachers, administrators, educational leaders and interested citizens can do to improve teacher retention by encouraging and improving opportunities for collaboration, support, respect, openness, and commitment to student achievement and professional development within schools. It presents original findings from a longitudinal study of public school science and math teachers in California participating in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). 

Principals and administrators who retain teachers at a rate higher than that of their peers:

  • Have a keen awareness of issues affecting new teachers;
  • Take a proactive versus reactive approach in supporting new teachers; and
  • Commit to professional growth and excellence for themselves, their students, and their teachers (new and veteran alike).

The report shows that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) can provide an effective means of supporting teachers and encouraging collaboration. A three-year longitudinal study of more than 300 teachers who participated in PLCs as part of the California Science Project Teacher Retention Initiative found that “Relevance of professional development, perceived classroom effectiveness, and identifying as part of a CSP-TRI professional learning community” were all predictors of classroom retention.  


  • Overall, teachers who participated in PLCs felt more confident about their teaching abilities, especially with regard to assessing student learning. 
  • In the study, teachers’ confidence in their ability to assess student learning in science was associated with anticipated length of stay in teaching. The more confident teachers felt, the longer they anticipated staying in the profession.
  • PLCs provided the most effective learning experiences and were viewed most positively by participants when they had the flexibility to pursue teachers’ needs and to evolve their goals, practices and priorities accordingly.  
  • Teachers particularly enjoyed and benefitted from participating in shared decision-making, setting their own goals, and being respected as professionals.  
  • PLC participants were likely to work collaboratively with other teachers in their schools. CTQ found that beginning teachers highly valued the support they received through their PLC. 



The creative cooperation of individuals and institutions can achieve impressive results in developing formal and informal opportunities for teachers to gain support and professional development within and outside of their schools.


  • Can include school culture as an important factor when deciding to teach at a certain school. 
  • Can also take steps to build a network of peers who can provide the support that is lacking in their schools. 
  • Can look for opportunities to refresh and update their own understanding of STEM subjects, both within and outside of their area of expertise. These opportunities might include engaging in summer internships, participating in workshops, and pursuing links or collaborative projects with the scientific community.

Teacher Educators

  • Can make teacher networking and networks part of their teacher education programming. 
  • Can build virtual platforms using existing technology (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) that will link current students to alumni and endure through time and as teachers move geographically.
  • Can create structural changes that allow for teacher collaboration and incorporate elements of shared planning time, interdisciplinary study teams, and interdisciplinary project-based learning environments.

Government, Scientific and Cultural institutions

  • Can encourage their scientists and staff to get involved in outreach with local teachers and to provide training and programs to help facilitate this. 

Click here to read the full report -a joint Demos and New York Academy of Sciences research project.