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Happy Teacher Project Team Researching Ways to Curtail Head Start Teacher Turnover

October 26, 2022

Happy Teacher Project Team Researching Ways to Curtail Head Start Teacher Turnover

Jang, Horm, Kown, Ford
Wonkyung Jang, Diane Horm, Kyong Ah Kwon, and Tim Ford

High teacher turnover and teacher shortages are problematic at all grade levels, but the effects are even more problematic in the early childhood workforce, especially in Head Start programs.

The cross-campus Happy Teacher Project team led by Kyong-Ah Kwon, Ph.D., associate professor and Drusa B. Cable Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Education, Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education, hopes to work toward a solution with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The funds support “Unpacking the Complex Story of Head Start Teacher Turnover: Patterns, Factors, Mechanisms and Outcomes,” an 18-month project that will focus on analyzing data to determine what causes turnover and instability in the workforce and what can be done to recruit and retain qualified teachers in Head Start programs.

The proposal was developed by the OU Happy Teacher Project team led by Kwon. The Happy Teacher Project is an interdisciplinary collaboration that takes a holistic and comprehensive approach to studying whole teacher well-being that consists of physical, psychological and professional well-being and how workplace conditions support these three areas.

The team includes a new childhood well-being cluster hire in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education: Wonkyung Jang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum; Tim Ford, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and director of the Leadership and Policy Center for Thriving Schools and Communities; and Diane Horm, Ph.D., George Kaiser Family Foundation Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, founding director of the Early Childhood Education Institute and an associate research director of OU’s Institute for Community and Society Transformation. Also on the team are Noreen Yazejian, Ph.D., and researchers at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, along with collaborators at Educare Learning Network.

“The purpose of the proposed project is to investigate patterns, factors, mechanisms and outcomes of Head Start teacher turnover, including both Early Head Start and Head Start teachers,” Kwon said. “We suspect that although all Head Start teachers are well trained and committed, given the high job demand of working with children from disadvantaged households who are more likely to experience many hardships, these teachers would have some unique challenges at work which may contribute to turnover.”

Horm said this research is especially important because teacher turnover is potentially more harmful for younger children.

Happy Teacher Project Team
The Happy Teacher Project team and FPG research partners.

“Younger children are just forming attachments with important adults in their life and aren’t as experienced in having to get used to different adults, and we know that having a consistent, familiar caregiver is important for both a child and the child’s family at very young ages,” she said. “Teacher turnover and stability in the workforce is Educare Educational Network’s number one issue. They have participated in producing this very unique data set that allows us to answer the question and partner with them to help them develop some strategies to reduce teacher turnover and inform the field.”

Kwon said to address existing research gaps and limitations, Educare Learning Network longitudinal data will be used in the analysis of Head Start teacher turnover using a range of advanced analytic techniques, including survival analysis and a combination of Bayesian Network learning algorithms with Structural Education Modeling to answer questions related to the complexity of Head Start turnover.

“The data set the Educare Learning Network and Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute graciously agreed to share provides us with unique opportunities to look at long-term patterns of Head Start teacher turnover and various contributing factors,” Ford said. “We are lucky to have this data to get this important aspect of teacher turnover and its impact.”

Jang said up to 30% of early childhood teachers leave their jobs each year. Over the next year and a half, he and others on the team will use cutting-edge algorithms popular in biostatistics and medicine to analyze the unique data they’ve been given.

“We will collaborate with the Educare team at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and try to manage the data and then apply those advanced statistical techniques not widely used in our field to improve this study with those statistical algorithms,” he said.

Kwon said support from several entities on OU’s Norman and Tulsa campuses was instrumental in the development of the team and this particular project.

“We want to extend our gratitude for all support we are fortunate to have to make this happen,” Kwon said. “We hope this collaborative study informs and makes a significant impact on practices and policies to support the early childhood teacher workforce, not only across Educare and Head Start but across the early childhood education field.”