Doctoral Student Matthew Shirrell Wins Prestigious National Academy of Education Fellowship

Doctoral Student Matthew Shirrell Wins Prestigious National Academy of Education Fellowship

Matt Shirrell

Matthew Shirrell, a doctoral candidate in the Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) program, is one of only 25 scholars in the nation to receive a National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship. This highly competitive program identifies the most talented researchers conducting dissertation research related to education.

The Dissertation Fellowship Program seeks to encourage a new generation of scholars to undertake research relevant to the improvement of education. These $25,000 fellowships support researchers whose dissertations show potential for bringing positive new perspectives to education.

Shirrell’s mixed-methods research explores the relationship between school working conditions and teacher retention. He focuses on the policy- and school-level factors that influence teacher recruitment, turnover and retention. “School working conditions matter to teacher retention, yet little is known about the factors that shape school working conditions, or how and when these working conditions affect teachers,” Shirrell says.

“Gaining a better understanding of the relationship between school working conditions and teacher retention will hopefully help us, in the long run, improve schools as workplaces and retain the best teachers in the profession,” he notes.

Shirrell’s interest in the subject stems from his nine years as a classroom teacher. “My own experiences teaching — in both a new charter school in Oakland, California, as well as a neighborhood public school in Chicago — sparked an interest in teachers' career paths and decision-making, particularly the role of schools in shaping those decisions. In my course work and early research in HDSP, I delved deeper into the research on school working conditions and their importance to teachers’ career decisions. I found this research fascinating and very consonant with my own experiences as a teacher, but it also left a lot of questions unanswered.” 

His dissertation, “School Working Conditions and Teacher Retention: The Roles of Policy, Teacher Preparation, and School Principals,” aims to answer some of these questions, using mixed methods and a variety of data sources. His first chapter examines how policy shapes school working conditions and, in turn, teacher retention. He examines the effects of No Child Left Behind on the ways that students were assigned to teachers, as well as on whether or not teachers left their schools or left teaching. His second chapter examines whether school working conditions of the schools where student teachers are placed affect their career plans. The final, qualitative chapter of his dissertation examines how new principals balance their work to shape the working conditions of their schools with their need to shape their teaching staffs through teacher hiring, remediation and removal.

A more complete understanding of the relationship between school working conditions and teacher retention is crucial to efforts to improve schools as workplaces and retain the best teachers in the profession, according to Shirrell.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/18/13