The high number of inexperienced teachers in public school classrooms is a largely unrecognized problem that undermines school stability, slows educational reform, and, new research suggests, hurts student achievement. These are among the findings of a report released today by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
“Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society” finds that new teachers leave the profession in large numbers mostly because they don’t get the support they need. Comprehensive induction can improve retention and new teacher performance, the report says, but it is rarely provided.
The report, by Carnegie Senior Associate Susan Headden, explores the causes and consequences of what may be a permanent shift toward a less experienced profession. And it looks at some promising ways of addressing the problem, including intensive mentoring and residency programs.
Teachers today are considerably less experienced than a generation ago. According to research by Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill of the University of Pennsylvania, in 1988 the most common teacher in America had 15 years of classroom experience; two decades later, that teacher was a novice in her very first year. Teachers with less than five years of experience — 22 percent in 2011-12 — are considered to be still learning their craft.
There are so many beginners in the classroom today not only because of greater demand for teachers, but because so many teachers in existing jobs are leaving before they become accomplished educators. Although the recent recession slowed the exodus somewhat, teacher turnover rates are exceptionally high; from 1988 to 2008, teacher attrition rose by 41 percent. In many urban districts, more than half of teachers leave within five years. And teachers abandon charter schools at especially high rates, a significant problem given the growing presence of charters in many metropolitan areas.
Money, or lack of it, is not the primary cause of rising teacher attrition, the report concludes. Teachers are leaving largely because of a lack of administrative support—poor professional development, insufficient emotional backing, and scant feedback on performance.
Many principals don’t track teacher turnover, the report finds. And the critical issue of fit—looking beyond competence to compatibility—is often overlooked, especially by school districts that scramble to fill spots even after the school year has already started.
“Beginners in the Classroom” examines these and other issues, and it highlights three types of induction programs that show promise for keeping new teachers in the profession and helping them to become better faster.