As public schools in Washington and other states across the country contend with teacher shortages in some areas and an influx of first-time teachers, a new study from the University of Washington College of Education provides evidence that mentorship matters in retaining beginning teachers.
The study by UW’s Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy was prepared at the request of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and compared the retention and mobility trends of beginning teachers in Washington school districts participating in the state’s BEST (Beginning Educator Support Team) teacher mentorship program to those in districts that did not participate.
In examining teacher movement from the 2010-11 to the 2014-15 academic years, BEST participation was associated with a decreased likelihood of beginning teachers moving within the district and half the likelihood of moving out of district, compared to beginning teachers who were not in BEST-funded districts.
The study also examined a subset of 14 districts funded by BEST in 2013 and 2014 that were identified by OSPI as having a full-fledged induction program. Some of the characteristics of a full-fledged program include summer orientation and ongoing professional development for new teachers and their mentors.
Beginning teachers in BEST‐funded districts with full‐fledged induction programs had statistically significantly lower rates of exiting the Washington teaching workforce one year later than beginning teachers in all other districts. On average, approximately 10 percent of beginning teachers working in all other districts are predicted to exit the teaching workforce one year later, compared to approximately 6 percent of their peers working in BEST‐funded districts with full‐fledged induction programs.
“These findings support what education advocates are saying: mentorship matters,” said report co-author Margaret Plecki, professor of education. “The evidence is clear that continuing efforts aimed at comprehensive mentoring and support of teachers new to the profession can be effective in reducing beginning teacher attrition.”
The results were statistically significant, researchers noted, even when controlling for other factors that could have had an effect on teacher retention such as geographic region, school poverty level and district size.
Since the inception of the BEST program, the proportion of beginning teachers located in BEST districts ranged from 7 to 32 percent of all beginning teachers statewide between 2009-10 and 2014-15, and increased to 54 percent in 2015-16. The majority of BEST-funded districts (53 percent) received funding for only a single year.
“Studying the BEST program is complicated because of the variation in the number of districts and teachers funded from one year to the next,” said report co-author Ana Elfers, research associate professor, but reaching statistical significance means researchers have higher confidence in the relationship between BEST and retention. “That’s a pretty high bar to meet.”
The authors identified additional statistically significant factors associated with beginning teacher retention and mobility statewide. Full-time beginning teachers are half as likely to exit as part-time beginning teachers, and high school beginning teachers are more likely to exit or move out of district than beginning teachers in elementary schools.
More new teachers raises stakes for mentoring
A major takeaway from the teacher workforce study was that the number of new teachers working at Washington schools has increased dramatically since 2010, Plecki said.
In the 2010-2011 school year, 3,387 state teachers were starting either their first or second year. By the fall of 2015, that number had more than doubled—to 6,918 teachers. The first years of teaching are important in the long-term retention of teachers, with about one in five (21 percent) beginning teachers in Washington exiting the workforce after five years, either temporarily or permanently.
With a greater proportion of new teachers in Washington’s classrooms, getting more to stay in the profession is essential to ensure public schools are adequately staffed by skilled educators. If the same results seen in BEST districts were extended across the entire state, it could mean retaining hundreds more new teachers every year.
“The need for efficient and effective teacher induction, mentoring and support programs is more pronounced than we’ve faced in the past,” Plecki said.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal to the Washington State Legislature included $50 million to expand the BEST program and put it on track to provide mentors for all new teachers by the 2020-21 school year and to make mentoring a full-time career option. The governor also proposed expanding the program to new principals, but it’s uncertain whether additional BEST funding will be incorporated into the legislature’s 2017-19 budget bills.
Ana Elfers, Research Associate Professor of Education
Margaret Plecki, Professor of Education
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