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Student Well-Being

Intensive Induction Shows Little Impact

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 30, 2008 6 min read
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After a year of implementation, two intensive teacher-induction programs did not noticeably change teachers’ instructional practices, boost rates of teacher retention, or improve student-achievement outcomes, a new study by the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education concludes. They did, however, succeed in increasing the time novice teachers spent with mentors to improve their teaching compared with teachers in schools lacking those programs.

Comprehensive induction programs differ from other types of new-teacher supports by facilitating focused, structured, and intensive interaction between mentors and novice teachers. Though costly, they have garnered interest from lawmakers seeking to improve new-teacher retention rates and boost student test scores.

The study’s results have left supporters of the approach seeking explanations and hoping additional study will reveal longer-term benefits.

“Obviously, these are discouraging studies, and they’re [of] extremely high quality,” said Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, at a panel discussion last week on the induction report and a second Institute of Education Sciences study on reading programs. (“Teacher Training in Reading Found to Have Mixed Effect,” Oct. 1, 2008.) “I’m going to emphasize that this is one year of results.”

Size and Scope

Although districts throughout the country now pair novice teachers with mentors in their schools or districts, such arrangements frequently lack the defining features of what supporters call high-quality, intensive, or comprehensive induction programs. In these programs, mentors receive specialized training, “release time” from teaching and administrative duties, meet at regularly scheduled intervals with their apprentices each week, and focus their support on research-based instructional practices.

The IES induction study, which was released last week, is the first of its size and scope to examine comprehensive teacher-induction programs through a random-assignment methodology, an approach that permits researchers to draw conclusions about a program’s effects. Researchers selected 17 districts with no former exposure to intensive induction programs.

Within each district, a group of schools adopted a comprehensive induction model developed either by Educational Testing Service, a Princeton, N.J.-based organization, or the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A control group of schools participated in the districts’ usual teacher-induction program. Overall, the study examined 418 schools and more than 1,000 teachers in 13 states.

Both the ETS and New Teacher Center programs use a curriculum designed to promote effective teaching. Mentors met with teachers for two hours a week to help them implement practices aligned with that curriculum. New teachers also attended monthly professional-development sessions.

Researchers gathered their data from pre- and post-intervention surveys of teachers and analyses of student test scores.

Teachers receiving the intensive induction spent, on average, 21 additional minutes a week in meetings with their mentors compared with those in the control groups. Such teachers were more likely than their peers who received the normal induction to report having received their mentors’ guidance on topics such as how to set and achieve instructional goals, improve practice, and assess students. They engaged more frequently in certain professional activities, such as keeping written logs, and spent more time on average analyzing student work and less time on standardized-test preparation.

Still, the study found that the programs did not produce a significant impact on teacher-retention rates or on reading or mathematics test scores. For the language arts teachers in one subset, the intensive mentoring did not appear to shape how they conducted lessons.

Jonah E. Rockoff, a professor of finance and economics at Columbia University’s graduate school of business who has studied induction programs, said the findings should be considered within a broader context of teacher productivity. In an induction program, a teacher must spend a certain portion of his or her workday on program activities and will consequently spend less time on other work-related activities, he noted.

“For some teachers, induction may be very beneficial, but for other teachers, it may simply take time away from the highly productive work they were doing before,” he said.

Too Soon to Tell?

In a time of tight budgets, the findings raise potential questions of cost-effectiveness. The intensive induction programs come with higher initial price tags than other types of teacher support—even though some advocates argue they produce savings over the long haul.

A 2007 cost-benefit analysis by the New Teacher Center heralded high-quality induction programs as a cost-effective way to staunch attrition of novice teachers over time. Each dollar invested in high-quality induction, that analysis stated, yields a return on investment of $1.66 after five years.

It is possible that the real benefits of high-quality induction don’t show up for two or more years, theorized Liam Goldrick, the New Teacher Center’s policy director

“The biggest issue that had people here concerned was the one-year treatment period,” Mr. Goldrick said. “Our model is a two-year model, and I don’t think we’ve ever said ... that we can make a difference in one year.”

ETS officials did not return a call seeking comment.

Ms. Walsh of the NCTQ added that first-year implementation is frequently problematic.

“You’re putting in a whole new program, and there’s no question you have huge implementation issues,” she said. “It’s not representative of what the program becomes.”

Other studies do correlate time spent with mentors and teacher effectiveness. One released this summer by Mr. Rockoff, on New York City’s now-defunct systemwide, yearlong mentoring program, found that achievement was higher among students whose teachers received a greater number of hours of mentoring. That study did not employ a randomized design.

But Mr. Rockoff took issue with the notion that a year is not a long enough window to determine the benefits of induction programs.

“Research has shown fairly conclusively that experience is positively related to teacher effectiveness in raising student achievement, and it is particularly true that teachers tend to do poorly in their first year,” he said. “The place you might expect to see the greatest impact on student outcomes is on a professional-development program focused on new teachers.”

Similarly, Mr. Rockoff said, the probability of exit is typically highest in the first year of teaching, so induction programs should affect retention in the first year.

More Study Ahead

Additional IES studies could shed more light on these issues. A subset of seven districts participated in the induction programs for a second year, and officials expect to release results of that analysis next spring.

For now, supporters of the programs say it is premature to draw broad conclusions about comprehensive induction programs based on a single study.

“We still find the costs that go into induction are much smaller than the costs districts are spending over and over in recruiting people and losing them, and recruiting people and losing them, and not having the ability for reforms to take hold,” said Kathleen Fulton, the director of reinventing schools for the 21st century for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports induction programs as part of an overall strategy to improve the quality of the teaching force.

Mr. Goldrick added: “The thing I hope doesn’t happen is that people throw up their hands and say we should go back to old-fashioned buddy systems.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 05, 2008 edition of Education Week as Intensive Induction Shows Little Impact

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