Attrition is the result of a much larger problem faced by new teachers. In America, teachers are expected to be experts ready to tackle the biggest challenges on their first teaching day. Beginning teachers are routinely assigned the most difficult classrooms, full of low-performing students at risk of falling behind or dropping out. Often these teachers are given little, if any, professional support, feedback, or demonstration of what it takes to help their students achieve.
Doctors serve internships and residencies. Military recruits go through basic training. American teachers, too, need formal on-the-job training and evaluation. Comprehensive induction integrates beginners into the profession by guiding their work, further developing their skills, and evaluating their performance during the first few years of teaching.
Comprehensive induction programs have been proven to make a huge difference in retaining new teachers and improving their teaching ability. However, while some schools claim to have a comprehensive induction plan in place, closer examination reveals that most programs are anything but comprehensive. As William Shakespeare wrote, “That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” However, when examining a comprehensive induction program, a more appropriate adage might be, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Comprehensive induction is not a crash course in teaching. Teachers need to be prepared with content knowledge and teaching skills before they enter the classroom. But just as induction is not a substitute for quality preparation, neither is preparation a substitute for quality induction. Induction is also not an orientation session. “Here’s the copier, here’s the teacher’s lounge, here’s your classroom. Go teach,” is not an example of a comprehensive induction program. Neither should stand-alone mentoring programs or a string of disconnected one-day workshops be considered proper induction.
The bottom line is that comprehensive induction programs must consist of a combination of high-quality mentoring, professional development and support, and formal assessments for new teachers during their first two years of teaching. With these elements in place, a comprehensive induction program can keep more quality teachers in the profession, weed out poor teachers, teach beginning teachers clinical, practical skills, build a community of teachers who are also learners, help teachers adjust to their individual school, and orient teachers in the efficacy and worth of their profession.
The Next Logical Step: Why the Federal Government Should Take a Role in Comprehensive Induction
Historically, the federal government has worked to ensure that every child has equal access to a quality education, no matter where they live or how wealthy their school may be. Recently, this attention to equity has expanded to include efforts to improve teacher quality. The next logical step in the federal government’s teacher-quality role is to call for the provision of high-quality induction for every teacher and to fund this provision in high-need schools.
There is no question that the implementation of effective, comprehensive induction can make a critical difference in our schools’ ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers. But many districts, facing increasingly tight budgets, find it difficult to allocate the necessary resources to develop, implement, and maintain comprehensive induction programs.
In Tapping the Potential, the Alliance recommends that states and school districts use funds from Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now the No Child Left Behind Act) to provide comprehensive induction to beginning teachers during at least their first two years of teaching. For fiscal 2004, Title II of NCLB is funded at $2.9 billion. In his budget for fiscal 2005, President Bush asked for no increase in funding for the program.
Another way to provide support for comprehensive induction programs would be through a change in Title II of the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is in the process of being reauthorized by Congress. Currently, Title II provides Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants to partnerships of postsecondary institutions and high-need school districts for improving the recruitment and preparation of K-12 teachers. All future partnership grants could require recipients to provide comprehensive induction that includes the quality criteria outlined in the report.
Finally, Congress should provide additional funding to ensure that every new teacher in our nation’s high-need schools receives comprehensive induction. These teachers are most at risk of leaving the profession, with a rate of attrition almost 50 percent higher than teachers in wealthier schools. As a result of this high teacher attrition and inadequate induction in high-need schools, poor, urban, and minority children are taught by less experienced, less qualified teachers who often do not stay long enough to become the expert, high-quality teachers their students desperately need.