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Impacts of Comprehensive Teacher Induction: Results From the First Year of a Randomized Controlled Study

NCEE 2009-4034
October 2008

Executive Summary

One of the main policy responses to the problems of turnover and inadequate preparation among beginning teachers is to support them with a formal, comprehensive induction program. Such a program might include a combination of school and district orientation sessions, special in-service training (professional development), mentoring by an experienced teacher, classroom observation, and formative assessment (Berry et al. 2002).

In practice, teacher induction is common, but induction that is intensive, comprehensive, structured, and sequentially delivered in response to teachers’ emerging pedagogical needs is less so (Berry et al. 2002; Smith and Ingersoll 2004). An example of informal or low intensity teacher induction includes pairing each new teacher with another full-time teacher without providing any training, supplemental materials, or release time for the induction to occur.

There is little empirical evidence on whether investing more resources in a more comprehensive, and hence more expensive, induction program would help districts attract, develop, and retain beginning teachers. According to several research reviews (Ingersoll and Kralik 2004; Totterdell et al. 2004; Lopez et al. 2004), little of the research on teacher induction to date has been conclusive or rigorous. Research based on federal statistics (for example, Smith and Ingersoll 2004; Henke et al. 2000; Alt and Henke 2007) can provide a useful, nationally representative perspective on the issue, but it is limited to the extent it can capture the intensity of induction supports and in the range of outcomes that can be examined. Research at the local level (for example, Fuller 2003; Youngs 2002) has yielded more detailed descriptions of teacher supports. Like the national studies, however, it has relied on evaluation designs that leave doubt about whether the inferences are causal.

Congressional interest in formal, comprehensive teacher induction has grown in recent years. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), emphasizes the importance of teacher quality in student improvement. Title II, Part A of ESEA—the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program—provides nearly $3 billion a year to states to train, recruit, and prepare high quality teachers. The implementation of teacher induction programs is one allowable use of these funds. Current discussions on the reauthorization of NCLB argue for a continued focus on supporting teachers through professional development opportunities and teacher mentoring programs, with a call to fund “proven models” to meet these objectives. In addition, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 authorizes grants that include teacher induction or mentoring programs for new teachers. These initiatives highlight the need to conduct rigorous research to determine whether comprehensive teacher induction programs produce a measurable impact on teacher retention and other positive outcomes for teachers and students.

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance within the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) contracted with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR), to evaluate the impact of structured and intensive teacher induction programs. Throughout this report, we refer to the more formal, structured programs as “comprehensive” induction. The study examines whether comprehensive teacher induction programs lead to higher teacher retention rates and other positive teacher and student outcomes as compared to prevailing, generally less comprehensive approaches to supporting new teachers. More specifically, the study is designed to address five research questions on the impacts of teacher induction services:

  1. What is the effect of comprehensive teacher induction on the types and intensity of induction services teachers receive compared to the services they receive from the districts’ current induction programs?
  2. What are the impacts on teachers’ classroom practices?
  3. What are the impacts on student achievement?
  4. What are the impacts on teacher retention?
  5. What is the impact on the composition of the district’s teaching workforce?

In 2004, we issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to implement a comprehensive induction program as part of the study. The RFP specified that the induction program should include several components that earlier research and professional wisdom gleaned from practice had suggested were important features of successful teacher induction programs (Alliance for Excellent Education 2004; Ingersoll and Smith 2004; Smith and Ingersoll 2004; Kelly 2004; Serpell and Bozeman 2000).

The components that constitute comprehensive teacher induction include the following: carefully selected and trained full-time mentors; a curriculum of intensive and structured support for beginning teachers that includes an orientation, professional development opportunities, and weekly meetings with mentors; a focus on instruction, with opportunities for novice teachers to observe experienced teachers; formative assessment tools that permit evaluation of practice on an ongoing basis and require observations and constructive feedback; and outreach to district and school-based administrators to educate them about program goals and to garner their systemic support for the program.

A group of outside expert reviewers read and scored the proposals we received in response to the RFP. Among the proposals received, those submitted by Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey (ETS) and the New Teacher Center at the University of California-Santa Cruz (NTC) stood out as most closely meeting the study’s specified requirements. The two programs included the required components and were roughly comparable in structure. MPR therefore contracted with both providers to deliver one year of comprehensive induction services to the districts in the study, with one-half of the districts assigned to ETS, the remaining half to NTC. Researchers from WestEd, a subcontractor to MPR, monitored the implementation of the comprehensive induction services to help the providers ensure there was fidelity to the core service model and to identify and help address any implementation challenges that arose.