ing studies on teachers’ career paths and the kinds of data that are available. We then turn to the issue of the kinds of career decisions that teachers make and discuss what is known about turnover rates (Subquestion b) and about the effects of teacher mobility (Subquestion c). For the most part, our analysis left us with many questions that need to be answered by additional studies, and we conclude the chapter with suggestions for the kinds of data that need to be collected.


One way to examine teachers’ career path decisions is to simply ask them about the decisions they have made and the reasons for them. Surveys and interviews can be used for this, although obtaining an adequate sample and following teachers over time can be an arduous undertaking. Another possibility is to use existing data from large-scale administrative data systems. Currently, there are three potential sources for such information—data systems maintained by states and two surveys of teachers conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. We discuss the benefits and limitations of each below.

State-Level Data Systems

Some states maintain administrative data systems on teachers, their characteristics, and their teaching assignment. When linked longitudinally, these systems allow the tracking of teachers from the time they are first hired in the state throughout their education careers in the public school system in that state. Such data systems can also provide information on the types of schools in which teachers are employed. These data are useful for investigating patterns of teacher mobility within the state and, depending on the type of information maintained, possibly on transitions to nonteaching positions in the state’s public school system as well.

When a teacher leaves the state’s public school system, however, the tracking ceases. Thus these systems usually provide little or no information on these departures. Of those who left the state’s public school system, state data systems generally cannot distinguish whether the teacher moved to a teaching job in a private school (in or out of the state), moved to a teaching job in a public school in another state, or left K-12 teaching entirely. As a result, examining attrition from the teaching field usually requires national data.

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