Knowledge Center: For Districts


Teacher Induction and Retention

Policymakers and educators nationwide are experimenting with innovative approaches to attract more highly qualified teachers to the classroom, such as alternative certification, recruiting bonuses, scholarships for prospective teachers, and other initiatives. A less recognized but equally important step to address this challenge, however, is to retain high-quality teachers once they are hired. About one-third of new teachers leave the profession during their first three years, and one-half within the first five. Further, those with the highest academic credentials are the most likely to leave teaching.

High attrition obviously increases the cost and difficulty of staffing schools with qualified professionals. But it can also undermine school cohesion and improvement efforts.

Teachers leave the classroom for many reasons, including family and alternative career options. However, other factors are more amenable to policy solutions. Teacher attrition is highest early in teachers' careers in part because many new teachers work in the most challenging, least desirable positions, but do not receive the support they need to adjust to the demands of their new jobs. More experienced teachers may leave teaching because the relatively flat structure of most schools often offers them few opportunities for professional advancement (or higher salaries) without leaving the classroom.

Policymakers can help mitigate these problems in a variety of ways. Induction programs provide additional support and training to help new teachers adapt to and develop the skills they need to succeed in the classroom. While such programs can vary greatly to meet the needs of individual teachers and local areas, effective induction typically lasts at least one full year and includes an intensive mentorship with a successful veteran teacher, reduced workload for new teachers, access to additional resources and supports outside the classroom, and an evaluation process to link induction programs to teacher and student results. For example, California's Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Program, enacted in 1997, provides technical assistance and state funding for local school districts to design their own programs based on state standards. Connecticut's BEST program is a two- to three-year induction program in which new teachers receive support from a mentor or school support team and access to online state professional development in their content area. At the end of two years, new teachers must submit a portfolio demonstrating that they have mastered core knowledge and skills.

Another unique induction program at the MATCH public charter school in Boston, Mass., allows recent college graduates interested in teaching to work full time as one-on-one tutors, enabling them to develop experience in how children learn before they have to handle classroom management challenges. High-quality support and mentoring programs are cost effective because they are typically far less expensive than replacing a teacher. In California, for example, new teachers that participated in a mentoring program had a 9 percent attrition rate over five years as compared to the 37 percent attrition rate of teachers that did not participate.

High-quality induction programs can also help districts retain experienced teachers by providing opportunities for them to grow in their careers and take on additional leadership roles and responsibilities, with commensurate increases in pay. For example, many states and school districts provide salary bonuses to teachers who mentor other teachers. Another way to expand opportunities for experienced teachers is to deploy them on teams of turnaround specialists, working in or with teachers in low-performing schools to help them implement school improvement strategies. In this way, policymakers can simultaneously leverage the skills of successful teachers to benefit more students and allow them to test new roles without requiring them to leave the classroom. In 2003, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner proposed a turnaround specialist initiative to bring teachers and principals who have had success in this area to work to turn around low-performing schools.

Competitive pay initiatives that reward teachers for performance, knowledge and skills, or taking on challenging placements, can also help improve teacher retention by enabling high-performing teachers or those who take on extra responsibilities to earn higher salaries more on par with those in other professions. In addition, communities can help retain teachers in neighborhoods with hard-to-staff schools by providing them low-cost home loans, mortgage assistance, and other programs that encourage teachers to buy homes where they work, allowing them to develop community ties and relationships that keep them in the neighborhood. By improving induction for new teachers while at the same time creating additional career opportunities for experienced ones, policymakers can keep more high-quality individuals in the classroom and raise teacher quality.

Source:DLC; Model Initiatives; May 13, 2004