Three out of 10 new teachers either leave teaching or move to another school after their first year. While some turnover may be beneficial to weed out the weakest teachers, such high levels of turnover are costly. There is a strong link between the high rates of teacher attrition and perennial teacher shortages that leave schools unable to staff their classrooms with qualified teachers.
These staffing problems are due in large part to a “revolving door” of teachers leaving the profession long before retirement. A study in Texas to quantify the costs of high turnover rates produced a “conservative” estimate that teacher turnover costs the state of Texas more than $300 million per year.
Educational research has documented that a sense of community and cohesion among families, teachers and students is important for the success of schools. High turnover of teachers works against developing a cohesive school community. Ignoring high levels of teacher turnover is not responsible, assert Thomas M. Smith, Vanderbilt University, and Richard M. Ingersoll, University of Pennsylvania.
In their recent study, Smith and Ingersoll examined empirical data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (and its supplement, the Teacher Follow-Up Survey) administered by the National Center for Educational Statistics in 1999- 2000. This survey examined teacher induction programs, mentoring, and professional development of new teachers. It also examined other supports available to new teachers, such as reduced teaching load, collaborative planning time, teacher’s aides and developmental seminars.
This study sought to answer four questions: How widespread are induction programs, and has their prevalence increased? How many new teachers participate in various kinds of induction and mentoring programs? What are the rates of turnover among beginning teachers? What are the effects of different kinds of mentoring and other induction activities on the rate at which new teachers leave their jobs?
During the past decade, induction programs have almost doubled. The data shows large variations among the types of schools and types of induction activities. About 70 percent of beginning public school teachers said they worked closely with a mentor, but only 42 percent and 46 percent of charter- and private-school teachers, respectively. More than two-thirds of new teachers were matched with mentors in their same field. Sixty-eight percent of beginning teachers had common planning time or collaborated with other teachers on instruction.
Large differences in the number of teachers participating in induction activities were seen between teachers in public versus charter or private schools. Overall, this analysis found a strong link between participation in induction programs and reduced rates of turnover. Smith and Ingersoll also found that some types of activities appeared to be more effective in reducing turnover.
Mentoring reduces turnover
The most significant factors for reducing turnover were having a mentor in the same field, having common planning time with other teachers in the same subject area or collaborating with other teachers on instruction, and being part of an external network of teachers. Teachers who participated in several of these activities were less likely to switch schools or leave teaching after the first year.
However, extra support in the form of a reduced teaching schedule or teacher’s aide was not associated with reduced turnover. Reduced teaching load actually increased the likelihood that a new teacher would leave teaching or move to another school. It is unclear whether this might be due to the fact that extra resources like reduced loads or teacher aides are used with less qualified beginning teachers who would be more likely to quit anyway.
Overall, 14 percent of first-time teachers in the 1999-2000 school year left teaching at the end of the first year, and 15 percent changed schools. In public schools, turnover rates varied by school size and poverty level. New teachers in high-poverty schools (more than 50 percent of students on reduced-price lunch) were less likely to switch schools but significantly more likely to leave teaching than teachers in medium-poverty schools. Attrition rates in charter schools were much higher.
In urban charter schools 30 percent of beginning teachers left teaching after their first year, as did 18 percent in suburban charters. Turnover rates in Catholic schools were similar to public school rates. Teachers age, gender or minority status were not statistically significant factors in determining turnover in beginning teachers, but special education teachers were 2.5 times more likely than regular classroom teachers to leave teaching or move.
Smith and Ingersoll report that this research provides general support for the use of mentor teachers and collaborative activities for new teachers in reducing turnover. However, they warn that there are important limits to this study’s usefulness. The data used did not collect information on program intensity, duration, structure or cost and therefore cannot address which programs are most cost effective.
Existing research can not answer many pressing policy questions: Is there a significant difference in effectiveness between induction and mentoring programs depending on how the mentors are selected, trained and compensated for their participation? How do the quantity and timing of contact between new teachers and mentors impact the effectiveness of mentoring? Is there an optimum duration for such programs? Finally, these researchers point out the lack of experimental studies involving random assignment and a control group.
“What Are the Effects of Induction and Mentoring on Beginning Teacher Turnover?”, American Educational Research Journal, Volume 41, Number 3, Fall 2004, pp. 681-714
Published in ERN February 2005 Volume 18 Number 2