Stanford program produces teachers with long-term commitment to schools, survey shows

Despite national problems with teacher retention, the vast majority of alumni of the Stanford Teacher Education Program are still in the classroom years after graduating.

Courtesy Stanford Teacher Education Program Jessica Uy, who graduated from the Stanford Teacher Education Program in 2007, teaches math at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Jessica Uy, second from right, who graduated from the Stanford Teacher Education Program in 2007, teaches math at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, Calif.

In the field of education, the phrase "dropout rate" generally sends chills down the spine of any teacher, administrator or policymaker. But as educators are aware, it's not just students who skip out on the primary or secondary school experience. Roughly 40 percent 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 quench 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 10 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 coauthor of the study.

Rachel Lotan, director of STEP Secondary and the study's other co-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 reflects their level of commitment to Stanford."

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 master's degree in education and a preliminary California Teaching Credential in a specific subject area. STEP includes two divisions that focus on preparing, respectively, elementary school teachers and secondary school teachers.

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 lunches – 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 free or reduced price lunches.

"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 said. "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. Also, 95 percent serve in leadership roles, ranging from sports coach to department chair to founder of a new school.

Graduates of STEP Elementary receive a multiple-subject credential; graduates of STEP Secondary receive a single-subject credential in one of the following subjects: 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.

The students are taught by Stanford faculty who are leaders in their fields. The classroom work is combined with clinical experience that includes direct supervision in class and mentorship by experienced teachers, program advisers and instructors.

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."

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

Rachel Lotan, Stanford Teacher Education Program: (650) 725-5992,

Ira Lit, Stanford Teacher Education Program: (650) 725-2221,

Jonathan Rabinovitz, Graduate School of Education: (650) 724-9440,

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965,