Just one more way we pay to play

I am certainly not the first to observe that we jump through time and money hoops to become teachers, and that these hoops seemed designed to ensure not so much quality as inconvenience, the better to ensure that only the patient with no other options make it through. Heaven forfend that the state make it easy for smart people to get into the classroom. For all the talk about “alternative paths”, the reality is that all teachers have to go through a whole host of utterly useless classes, both before and after getting the credential.

After? Oh, yes, after, in at least 11 states, a horrible process that any recent teacher shudders to recall. This process, called induction, is the subject of a new report by the New Teacher Center.

Beginning teachers are, on average, less effective than more experienced ones. High-quality induction programs accelerate new teachers’ professional growth, making them more effective faster. Research evidence suggests that comprehensive, multi-year induction programs accelerate the professional growth
of new teachers, reduce the rate of new teacher attrition, provide a positive return on investment, and improve student learning.

As to the first sentence, sure. So what? New lawyers and doctors are, on average, less effective than more experienced ones. As to the second and third sentences, hold on a minute: a randomized controlled study of induction programs run by the Department of Education showed:

  • There were no impacts on teacher retention rates after each of the three years of follow-up.
  • There were no impacts on teachers’ classroom practices, which were measured during teachers’ first year in the classroom.
  • For teachers offered one year of comprehensive induction, there were no impacts on student achievement in any of the teachers’ first three years in the classroom.
  • For teachers offered two years of comprehensive induction, there were no impacts on student achievement in either of the first two years. However, in the third year, there were positive impacts on student achievement, based on the sample of teachers whose students had both pre-test and post-test scores. These impacts were equivalent to moving the average student from the 50th percentile to the 54th percentile in reading and the 58th percentile in math.

So if teachers jump through two years of hoops, a sample shows a very minor improvement in test scores, but no impact on retention and it doesn’t change a thing in our teaching practice. I’m sure New Teacher Center has other studies, but whatever.

Naturally, even in the face of this weak evidence, the New Teacher Center calls for more spending, more induction, more rules, more time spent.

Am I the only teacher who thinks that induction is a nightmare at worst, a waste of time at best? I don’t think so. I was lucky, too, since I taught at a small district the first year and induction was a formality. My second year, though, was at a big district, adding a good 50+ hours of work to an already unpleasant workload. Best case, you get a good mentor and at least have some quality discussions while going through the meaningless paperwork. I did have good mentors, although neither of them were math teachers.

And new teachers who don’t finish induction don’t get a permanent credential, or “clear”. Missing the two year window to get cleared renders a teacher largely unemployable at any district that pays for induction. Teachers who don’t get their clear in a given window have very little recourse. Teachers who go through an alternate program and get an internship credential have it even worse—if they don’t finish and get their clear in the five-year window, it’s as if none of it happened. Coursework, student teaching, all for nothing. Yet one more reason I went through the formal ed school program—it gave me a level of protection if something went wrong.

Last year, I was far more concerned that I get my clear than I keep my job for a second year—and I wanted a second year at the job pretty badly, which says something about how important the clear was.

As Steven Sawchuk observes, given how soft the data is in support of induction, why bother?

For my two cents, this review raises a lot of cost-benefit questions for policymakers and key supporters of induction, including teachers’ unions. Where should induction fall in the list of budget priorities? Is preserving and strengthening these programs the role of states or districts? How should it be weighed in comparison to other budget items, such as professional development, curricula, and salaries?

Exactly. Do teachers a favor—dump induction and give them a mentor or support group. Cheaper and far more valuable.

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7 responses to “Just one more way we pay to play

  • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno)

    This all resonates with me both as an induction coach (presently) and an inductee (recently), in both cases using the very same (I assume) NTC-created materials used in the DoE study. I actually appreciate that the NTC uses a “best practices” sort of approach, as opposed to a results-based approach. At least part of the problem, though, is that the NTC uses the CA “Standards for the Teaching Profession” as the “best practices”, which are often so vague as to be useless to a beginning teacher (e.g., ” Teachers organize curriculum to facilitate students’ understanding of the central
    themes, concepts, and skills in the subject area.”) This would be like turning having surgeons’ best practices include “Surgeons minimize bacterial contamination of the surgical cavity” rather than something like, “Surgeons wash their hands to the elbow using antibacterial soap immediately prior to entering the operating room.” (I actually just made that last one up based on what I see on TV.)

    • educationrealist

      hahaha! Great analogy.

      It’s all a joke. I had to redo half of my submission the second year because the reviewer didn’t think I had shown my support for second language learners. I pointed out all the language support I had, and he explained that I shouldn’t be focusing on language. Um, what?

      Second language learners struggled, he said.

      I suddenly realized that he didn’t realize that all the curriculum I had in the manual was for my strugglers, that I taught my top students using very different problems. So I had to add in all the work I taught to my top students so he could see that the original curriculum was something I’d designed custom for my weak students–which, I realized, is what he meant by language learners.

      It made him happy, but it made me insane. It’s hard to believe that induction has any value other than an assigned mentor.

  • Roger Sweeny

    We make our money by providing credentials. It’s only natural that people in the business think well of them–and that the more the better.

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    […] year eight to ten, deliberately pushing teachers towards professional development. Teaching is apay to play occupation—the state makes us pay to jump through a bunch of hoops. Ed school benefits from the whole […]

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    […] undergoing an induction review for my clear credential, the auditor told me that I hadn’t given enough support to my […]

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    […] in a (successful) effort to offer assistance, and I’m now mentoring him in his second year of induction (third year as a […]

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