At a conference in Washington on Tuesday sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education, advocates for strengthening new-teacher supports gathered in an effort to shift the teacher-effectiveness discourse—at least for the moment—from evaluation to induction, with some arguing that reform efforts should focus on developing great teachers rather than laying off ineffective ones.
Richard Ingersoll, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, set a data-heavy stage for the discussion by delving into an analysis he released last year of the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2007-2008 Schools and Staffing Survey. The teacher force has been “been ballooning in size over the last couple of decades,” he said. The growth “is outstripping the growth of students by two and a half times. It’s a stunning thing.”
Consequently, there’s been “a tremendous amount of hiring, and a huge increase in the numbers and proportion teachers who are beginners,” or what he called a “greening” of the teaching force. And while induction has been a growing trend, there’s a lot of variability in terms of what such programs offer new teachers. Ingersoll said that 90 percent of new teachers receive face-time with administrators and 81 percent receive mentors, but only just over half receive opportunities to collaborate with colleagues. It’s rare for new K-12 teachers to get a reduced course-load, he said—though that kind of support is common for professors at the college level.
In addition, he cited his 2004 analysis of the 1999-2000 SASS figures showing that attrition rates differ based on the type of induction services teachers receive. Not surprisingly, those who receive little or no induction have the highest attrition, with 21 percent leaving after the first year. For those who receive a “comprehensive package of services,” Ingersoll said, including a mentor, opportunities to collaborate, and other resources, attrition goes down to 9 percent. However, that “Lexus” package is expensive, and only about 2 percent of first-year teachers in the country get it, he said. “It’s a sobering story.”
Ellen Moir, chief executive officer of the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based New Teacher Center, which provides induction services to new teachers across the country, agreed that teacher-education programs on their own “are not really preparing new teachers for what it’s like to be in an urban setting in America. Even the best teacher programs in the country—what they’re offering is a simulated experience.” She gave an impassioned plea for high-quality induction that selects and trains excellent mentor teachers—who are then “teed up to become principals if they choose to do so.” She pushed for using and developing the talent within a district to improve teaching and leadership. And while attrition, to some extent, is inevitable, she said, “you don’t want to see major exoduses out of the same set of schools with underprivileged kids year after year.”
Gwendolyn Benson, associate dean in the College of Education at the University of Georgia, contended that teacher-education programs can reduce attrition as well by implementing strong induction programs. She pointed to her her school’s teacher residency program as an example. She said 92 percent of teachers who complete the program at the University of Georgia are still teaching after two years. “Retention is not just the role of the school district but the universities preparing teachers to go into these school systems,” she said.
Though value-added measurement of teachers was not mentioned specifically, the discussion seemed, in part, fueled by a concern that the continued focus on teacher evaluation—both at the state and federal level—could overshadow progress in the area of teacher induction. With the public’s attention on teachers these days, Moir said, “the good news is that the whole country cares what we care about. The bad news is that there’s too much dialogue about getting rid of lousy teachers and not enough on how to develop the teachers we have.” It was the only statement that morning followed by applause from the 60-person audience.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.