National data show that one in five new teachers will leave the classroom within five years; in urban districts, that number jumps to nearly 50%. Now, some experts are saying strengthening new teacher induction programs is the rising tide that will lift both the teacher retention and student achievement ships. The problem, however, is working around massive budget cuts in many states across the nation.
“It’s pretty clear that many [new teachers] are not getting the help they deserve in their early years in the classroom,” said New Teacher Center director of policy Liam Goldrick during a recent panel to discuss better ways to support beginning teachers. “This isn’t really a question of induction being a remedial issue. We don’t need induction for beginning educators because preparation programs are necessarily failing.”
But Irasema Salcido, founder of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School network in Washington, DC, said during a recent panel hosted by the Hoover Institution she thinks teacher preparation is failing and isn’t meeting the needs of students.
“The way we’re training our principals and our teachers isn’t cutting it,” she said at the February 25 event. “We have to have rigorous, competitive programs” to address teacher attrition rates. “We will also have to pay them well.”
In a climate marked by political gridlock over education budgets in states across the nation, it is the “pay them well” contingency that could present the strongest challenge. Despite Department of Education data that say first-year teachers with higher base salaries are more likely to return to the classroom the following year, legislators across the country continue to turn to education as one of the first areas to scale back discretionary funding.
Dr. Terry Holliday, former Kentucky Education Commissioner and the Board Chair of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, said during the New Teacher Center event the across the board cuts associated with the current budget climate around the country make for difficult decisions for districts.
“If you tell the professional teaching standards board in Kentucky that you have a 10% cut, there are only so many places you can cut,” he said. “Where do you cut?” Holliday said with the failure to clearly make the case for programs like teacher induction, those are often first on the chopping block. “We’ve just got to get it in easy to understand political speak,” he said. “Not a 30-page research report, but a half page, three bullets, ‘here it is’ this will … save you money in the long run, because replacing all these teachers is costing us more than keeping them, and [it will] improve achievement.”
Salcido said what many in education know: “It has hurt us and will continue to hurt us to make education a political issue.”
Andrea Prejean, Director, Teacher Quality at the National Education Association, said there is a national financial imperative associated with strengthening teacher induction programs.
“We don’t finance schools very well in this country,” she said. “It costs us over $2 billion a year across the country when we don’t have teachers who stay in the classrooms and build a culture, build the support system. So if we’re only talking about saving money, it clearly makes sense to have really good induction programs that are system-wide and that can support our educators.”
As with many things in education, and society in general, the negative effects associated with across the board cuts and not having adequate teacher induction policies and supports in place are not equally distributed across the population.
According to a March 2016 report by the New Teacher Center, “beginning teachers are inequitably found in high-poverty neighborhoods and communities,” which “can hinder many schools from effectively addressing the needs of many students of color and those from low-income families” found in these schools. “Too many beginning educators in one place can impact student achievement and unfairly put students in these schools at a disadvantage compared to their more advantaged peers,” the report states.
Prejean said, “We can’t blame” new teachers in these areas for leaving if they’re not adequately supported, “because being in those schools, they’re very difficult, so we really want to make sure that we have very good induction programs for those teachers.”
In a scathing January essay titled “The Conversation I’m Tired of Not Having,” 2016 National Teacher of the Year finalist Nate Bowling wrote that he believes much of “America is perfectly happy with segregated schools and inequity in funding. We have the schools we have, because people who can afford better get better. And sadly, people who can’t afford better just get less — less experienced teachers, inadequate funding and inferior facilities.”
As districts continue to grapple with new ways to address retention issues in public schools, this reality will be something they will need to keep in mind. And, for teachers in these schools who are particularly vulnerable to high attrition patterns due to lack of resources and institutional support, Goldrick said strong teacher induction programs will be key to retaining quality teachers, which in turn impacts achievement rates.
While he agrees there are “absolutely” things teacher preparation programs could do better, Goldrick said, “Our belief is regardless of the quality or the type of teacher preparation, they need an opportunity during this particularly formative stage in their professional development to apply their learning in real-world settings and real-world contexts, and that’s where induction comes in.”
According to the NTC report, only four states require and fund multi-year teacher induction programs to help develop new teachers — Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa and Hawaii. Not only that, but “many states still lack inadequate support for new school principals, quality standards for educator induction and ongoing professional development and support for mentors, and many states have only limited mentoring for new teachers,” according to the report. Those states that do have policies are marked by poor or spotty implementation.
“I think we could do a better job of trying to put the solution in terms of how it affects individual children and I think people will be more inclined to support” policies to strengthen beginning teachers, Prejean said.
Dawn Shephard, associate director of the Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning Initiative, said it is critical to make sure “policymakers and decisionmakers understand that that impact can be quite negative on students if we have this in and out policy that is happening and this revolving door of educators.” Acknowledging that “resources are absolutely a roadblock,” she said it is absolutely “imperative that we have consistency for those students.”
What does appropriate teacher induction look like? University of Pennsylvania professor of education and sociology Dr. Richard Ingersoll said an effective teacher induction program includes the new teacher being assigned a mentor and being allowed common planning time or regularly scheduled collaboration with teachers in the same subject area.
Data support the need for mentors in the field. A 2015 National Center for Education Statistics Report entitled “Public School Teacher Attrition and Mobility in the First Five Years” found new teacher retention increased “among those who were assigned a first-year mentor.” (This study, however, did not disaggregate data based on urban vs. suburban schools, instead lumping them together in comparison against urban schools.)
It’s also consistency and stability, which is as critical for the teachers as it is for the students.
“Equity is not necessarily best achieved by moving teachers around, but developing teachers where they are,” said Goldrick.
Prejean agreed, saying, “you can have 5-6 years under your belt in one school and get transferred to another school and, for all intents and purposes, be a new teacher.”
Salcido said it is important to “engage teachers and administrators in the solutions” in the discussion of any induction program implementation — or any other proposed solution — rather than create policies around them.
Shephard agreed. “We don’t use really accomplished teachers in districts to talk to the folks who make the decisions,” she said.
But if the nation is to see improvements in teacher retention and, thus, student achievement, it is time to pay attention to the needs and opinions of those working directly with the students.