Study marks problems posed by inexperienced teachers
(Calif.) A nationwide survey found the high number of inexperienced teachers in public classrooms is a largely unrecognized problem that undermines school stability, slows educational reform and, according to new research, hurts student achievement.
Focusing on the causes and consequences of a less-experienced teaching force, a report released this month by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching at Stanford, examines escalating levels of teacher attrition in public schools and also offers promising solutions aimed at keeping new educators in the profession and helping them to become better faster.
“There are so many beginners in the classroom today not only because of greater demand for teachers, but because so many teachers in existing jobs are leaving before they become accomplished educators,” wrote Carnegie Senior Associate Susan Headden, author of “Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society.”
Headden’s research found that new teachers leave the profession in large numbers mostly because they don’t get the support they need. Comprehensive induction programs can improve retention and new teacher performance, the report says, but it is rarely provided.
“Money, or lack of it, is not the primary cause of rising teacher attrition,” the report concludes. “Teachers are leaving largely because of a lack of administrative support – poor professional development, insufficient emotional backing, and scant feedback on performance.”
Teachers today are considerably less experienced than a generation ago, wrote Headden, citing research from the University of Pennsylvania showing that in 1988 the most common teacher in America had 15 years of classroom experience; two decades later, that teacher was a novice in her very first year. Teachers with less than five years of experience – 22 percent in 2011-12 – are considered to be still learning their craft, researchers said.
Although the recent recession slowed the teacher exodus somewhat, teacher turnover rates are exceptionally high, according to the report, which found that from 1988 to 2008, teacher attrition rose by 41 percent. In many urban districts, more than half of teachers leave within five years, the research shows, and they abandon charter school posts at especially high rates, a significant problem given the growing presence of charters in many metropolitan areas.
Many principals don’t track teacher turnover, the report states. And the critical issue of teacher/classroom fit – looking beyond competence to compatibility – is often overlooked, especially by school districts that scramble to fill spots even after the school year has already started, the author wrote.
While new teachers bring energy and fresh perspective to their schools, studies show that teachers simply are not as effective in their first years in the classroom as they are with more experience, Headden wrote. There is also evidence that the best beginning teachers make up a substantial proportion of the early leavers: In a 2013 study of teacher attrition in four large urban systems, TNTP, a teacher recruitment and training organization, found that nearly one-third of highly effective teachers left within two years, and almost half left within five.
The result, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, is that “students are too often left with a passing parade of inexperienced teachers who leave before they become accomplished educators.”
Hardest hit, says the report, are students in tough-to-staff schools in low-income neighborhoods – the very students who are in greatest need of outstanding educators. Studies cited in the report have found attrition in high-poverty schools to be 50 percent greater than it is in other schools.
In addition to the human toll, teacher turnover, says the NCTAF, costs school districts over $7 billion a year in teacher recruitment and induction expenses alone – from $4,366 per teacher-leaver in rural Jemez Valley, N.M. to $17,892 in Chicago. In 2007 alone, teacher turnover cost New York City $115 million.
Solutions to the challenge of keeping new teachers in the classroom, says the Carnegie report, begin with “making careful hiring decisions at the outset, then recognizing that new teachers have unique needs and providing them with the targeted support and real-world training they require.”
The report discusses in-depth teacher induction strategies designed to offer the sort of targeted training and intensive support that recognizes the first years of teaching as the make-or-break opportunities they are.
Comprehensive induction, writes Headden, includes high-quality mentoring by trained mentors, common planning time, ongoing professional development, external networks of teachers, standards-based evaluation, dedicated resources and an adequate and stable source of funding.
Comprehensive induction, said the author, is not:
- A crash course in teaching
- An orientation session that tells teachers where the copy machine is
- A stand-alone mentoring program
- A string of disconnected one-day workshops
- A top-down, one-directional approach in which teachers are passive recipients
- Only a benefit to beginners
- A way to help teachers cope with a dysfunctional school
In addition to targeted support and real-world training, wrote Headden, “the problem also seems to call for fundamental changes in the profession – changes that would give classroom teachers more ownership of their careers and greater opportunities for leadership and advancement.”