Report: Mentoring teachers helps retain them

UW studied teacher mobility, BEST program

At a time when Washington state is experiencing an influx of first-time public school teachers — and a teacher shortages in some areas — strategies for supporting new teachers are becoming even more important.

Now there’s a University of Washington study out that suggests the state’s BEST teacher mentorship program — short for Beginning Educator Support Team — makes a difference in keeping first-year teachers in the classroom. The finding supports what education advocates have said: Mentorship matters.

The study, completed this month by the UW College of Education’s Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, examined school districts that were fully engaged in the BEST program and compared them with districts that were not. The report was prepared at the request of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The report looked at retention and mobility trends among all beginning teachers from the 2010–11 school year through the 2014–15 school year.

Based on those five years, the study predicted that just 6 percent of first-year teachers in districts that fully adopted the BEST program would leave their job within one year, either by moving out of state or quitting the teaching profession altogether. In school districts that did not participate fully in the mentorship program, 10 percent of first-year teachers were predicted to leave their Washington teaching jobs.

Those numbers are statistically significant, meaning researchers were able to rule out other factors that could have had an effect on teacher retention, said Marge Plecki, director of the teaching and policy center who has a Ph.D. in educational administration and policy analysis.

“Not everybody has a (BEST) program. It’s hard to study,” Plecki said, but reaching statistical significance means researchers have higher confidence in the relationship between BEST and retention. “That’s a pretty high bar to meet.”

A school district considered to have run a full-fledged BEST program is one that received at least two years of BEST funding; provided summer orientation for new teachers that included at least one day about instruction; provided ongoing professional development for new teachers; delivered training and ongoing support for teacher mentors; and required mentors to observe new teachers and then give them written or verbal suggestions for improvement.

According to the UW study, the findings on BEST “suggest that continuing efforts aimed at high‐quality, comprehensive mentoring and support of teachers new to the profession can be effective in reducing beginning teacher attrition.”

Second-year Clover Park School District teacher Adriana Alexander and her BEST mentor recently discussed how the program helped keep Alexander in the profession. You can read Alexander’s story here.

Gov. Jay Inslee has been a strong supporter of teacher mentoring as part of a strategy to improve teacher effectiveness and retention. His budget proposal invests $50 million in expanding the BEST program, putting 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 proposes expanding the program to new principals.

Gov. Jay Inslee meets with educators in January at Garfield Elementary School in Everett to hear how the state’s Beginning Educator Support Team program helps new teachers. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

“We ask so much of our educators, and we need to do more to support them, including giving a boost to mentorship programs,” Inslee said. “Too many of our starting teachers leave the profession in the first few years. Our students deserve skilled and talented teachers, and that can take time.”

The additional funding for mentorship still needs to be passed by the Legislature, which is working to craft a 2017–19 budget. The additional BEST funding proposed by the governor was absent from the latest budget proposals put forth by the House and the Senate.

An increase in new teachers

Researchers who examined the BEST program also conducted two other studies: a workforce study on state teachers and a similar study on principals.

A major takeaway from the teacher workforce study was that the number of new teachers working inWashington schools has increased dramatically since 2010, Plecki said.

In the 2010–11 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.

“One of the things we thought was going on, but were kind of surprised at the rate at which it was happening, was the number of new teachers in the state,” Plecki said. “That is a big increase.”

Additional findings from those two studies include:

  • Over the five-year period, 21 percent of beginning teachers either left the state or the teaching profession.
  • Beginning teachers who work full time are half as likely to leave their school as beginning teachers employed part time.
  • In high schools, beginning teachers are more likely to move out of district and twice as likely to leave their school as beginning teachers in elementary schools.
  • New teachers are less likely to stay at their school when compared with veteran teachers.
  • The average percentage of principals continuing to work at the same school after five years is 42 percent. That compares to the five-year teacher retention rate of 59 percent.
  • In elementary schools, assistant principals have a lower average yearly retention rate of staying in the same school — 65 percent — when compared with principals, whose average yearly retention rate is 81 percent.

Next steps for researchers could be to study why some of these trends are occurring, Plecki said, including why there’s greater retention in elementary schools.