In collaboration with Porter-Leath, a community organization in Memphis, Tenn., LENA’s research team recently asked: In the world of early childhood education, can a professional development program impact teacher retention?
The main takeaway from the data analysis is encouraging, to say the least. There’s strong evidence to suggest that LENA Grow, the evidence-based professional development program that helps early childhood educators create equitable language environments, has a beneficial impact on teacher retention.
“This analysis shows that LENA Grow fosters the kind of positivity and purpose that keeps early educators in the profession,” said Dr. Jill Gilkerson, Chief Research Officer at LENA. “There are, unfortunately, so many reasons why teachers are leaving. It’s encouraging to see that what we’re doing at LENA, alongside all our partners like Porter-Leath, is part of the solution.”
The data: Teacher attrition and teacher retention
It’s an understatement to say that Porter-Leath has been serving children and families for a long time. Having first become an Early Head Start grantee in 1999, the organization’s full history stretches all the way back to the mid-19th century and covers a wide range of vital services.
When it comes to retaining early education professionals, not even an organization as established as Porter-Leath has been immune to the effects of the child care crisis. Since 2020, Porter-Leath’s Early Head Start sites have seen an increase in employee turnover. This, all too unfortunately, is a common state of affairs.
LENA’s researchers analyzed a sample of 88 educators working at Porter-Leath’s Early Head Start sites across Memphis. The results are simple, yet striking:
- Attrition was higher for teachers who did not participate in LENA Grow. Among those 30 teachers, more than half left their position.
- Attrition was lower for teachers who did participate in LENA Grow. Among those 58 teachers, fewer than one in four left their position.
In other words, teachers who participated in LENA Grow were more than twice as likely to stay in their roles as those who did not.
“Porter-Leath has been implementing the LENA Grow coaching model as an investment to bring significant benefits to our Early Head Start program,” said Dr. Kelley Corbin, Vice President of Early Childhood Services at Porther-Leath. “Teachers consistently note on the end-of-the-cohort survey that they have a higher job satisfaction after completing the training, which assists with our teacher retention.”
The context: The power of LENA Grow amid a child care crisis
The child care crisis in the U.S., variously described as a “brutal economic tug-of-war” and a “threat to our nation,” has a long reach. It’s pervasive. It hits families, early childhood educators, and entire economies alike. The teacher education requirements are often high, yet the compensation is almost universally low. The regulations are fragmented and complex, as are the funding streams that are often tied to them. Retaining talented and experienced early childhood educators has never been more difficult or more critical.
It’s a crisis driven in part by political discord and gender inequities. And, to be clear, it’s a crisis that existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic. As one early childhood policy expert has put it, the pandemic “brought the hammer down“ on an already vulnerable system. Since 2020, having long teetered on a cracked foundation, the child care industry has seen centers close, early childhood educators lose their jobs, and families lose their access to high-quality care.
What’s more, the educators who kept their jobs have encountered unprecedented stressors and uncertainties. One ripple effect: More and more teachers are leaving the early childhood education profession voluntarily.
The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment places the blame squarely on low compensation, arguing that public investments must be made to increase poverty-level wages for early educators. At LENA, we wholeheartedly agree. “Let’s appreciate early childhood educators — truly, loudly, enthusiastically, and materially,” LENA’s Vice President of Impact has written.
But, independent of all the other issues, we’ve also seen the power of LENA Grow — for children, yes, but also for teachers.
Children participating in LENA Grow have seen higher TS GOLD® scores, indicating improved language and literacy outcomes. They’ve seen higher DECA scores, indicating a boost to their social-emotional growth. Furthermore, children who had been accustomed to having almost zero verbal interaction with their teachers started experiencing lots of interaction throughout the day.
Likewise, teachers participating in LENA Grow have seen improved CLASS® scores, indicating higher overall quality at the classroom level. They’ve also described a boost to their professional outlook, including improved feelings of self-efficacy and job satisfaction.
“Sometimes,” as one long-time preschool teacher said, “just being recognized as a teacher teaching at the preschool level is all the boost we need to continue on with it.”
The educators behind the data
Behind the numbers, of course, are the individual teachers, each with their own aspirations, motivations, and headwinds.
There’s Larissa Fullilove, for instance. Larissa is one of the teachers who has stayed on at Porter-Leath. In fact, since participating in LENA Grow in late 2020, she has become an instructional coach within Porter-Leath’s Teacher Excellence Program. Endorsed by the Association of Infant Mental Health in Tennessee, Fullilove specializes in social-emotional training for early childhood educators.
“Once a teacher is able to understand that this LENA program is very important not only for herself but also the children in her classroom, that’s when it was like an eye-opener,” Fullilove said. “When they see the data reports, they’re excited. They want to learn more.”
And there’s Rochelle Lewis, who was recently recognized in a post on Porter-Leath’s LinkedIn page for how remarkably well she facilitates conversational turns with the children in her care. In fact, those children, all toddler-aged, experienced optimal levels of interaction on 80 percent of their LENA Days!
And there’s Feliciette Perry, who has taught in Early Head Start classrooms at Porter-Leath’s Early Childhood Academy in South Memphis since 2018 and participated in LENA Grow in late 2020. “I have grown tremendously in this program,” she said. “I now know the true meaning of why language development is important at an early age.”
To be clear, no teacher should ever be faulted for pursuing a different career path or prioritizing other life goals. The current state of the early childhood education profession can take its toll, both mentally and physically. Potential policy enhancements focused on compensation and regulations are inevitably slow to achieve. In the meantime, we at LENA are encouraged by the evidence that teachers who participate in LENA Grow may be more likely to stay in their job. Educating infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is among the most impactful of all professions, after all.