A new study by the University of Washington has found a link between mentoring programs and higher retention rates for beginning teachers – research that could inform current budget negotiations in Olympia over K-12 funding.
One goal for state lawmakers this session as part of fully funding basic education is increasing teacher retention rates. Although the legislature just entered its second special session and budget talks are ongoing, it is highly likely that their final education package will include additional money for the Beginning Education Support Team (BEST) mentoring program.
The idea favored by both parties, and its effectiveness in retaining new teachers was recently affirmed by a new study from the University of Washington (UW) College of Education’s Center of Teaching and Policy.
“These findings 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,” the study concluded.
Increasing retention will become critical to improving student learning as the number of beginning teachers increases. Although the percentage of new teachers in Washington state’s K-12 (10.7 percent) is lower than the national average (12 percent), their actual number has more than doubled in the last six years, from 3,387 to 6,918. A 2012 report by the American Institute for Research found that teacher turnover can cause a “disruptive effect” on student scores.
BEST’s competitive grants allow districts to set up support systems and mentoring for their beginning teachers. Last school year, districts received $2,500 per first-year teacher, and continuing grantees received $500 for every second-year teacher.
The UW study examined teacher retention in two 5-year academic periods, 2010-11 to 2014-15, and 2011-12 to 2015-16, by comparing grantee and non-grantee districts. It found that 50 percent of new teachers stayed in their districts, compared to teachers in non-BEST districts that instead remained 40 percent and 43 percent of the time, respectively.
In particular, “In 2013-14, BEST was found to be a significant and positive predicator of beginning teachers moving to a different school within their district,” the study states. “Beginning teachers in BEST were more than twice as likely as their peers in non-BEST districts to move within the district as compared to remaining in one’s original school one year later.”
“One could argue that this outcome provides evidence of the effectiveness of the BEST program,” it states further. “Beginning teachers in BEST-funded districts with full-fledged induction programs had statistically significantly lower rates of exiting the Washington teaching workforce one year later than the beginning teachers in all other districts.”
Additionally, the thoroughness of the support system created by the districts led to a lower rate of teachers leaving the state. The study claims “the result was statistically significant.”
The study also found that BEST districts had higher overall teacher retention rates: 77 percent compared to 73 percent.
Among the study’s other conclusions were:
- Full-time, new teachers were half as likely to leave their district compared to part-time beginning teachers;
- New high school teachers were twice as likely to leave their district compare to beginning elementary teachers; and
- From 2009 to 2016, half of new Washington teachers were teaching in elementary school.
Another finding that may pique the interest of budget negotiators was that “the poverty level of the school was not a consistently significant predictor of beginning teacher turnover.”
Despite the program’s effectiveness, the study found that just over half of BEST districts received only one year of funding, and many received funding for the first time in the 2015-16 school year. Because of this, “it is not possible yet to assess the long‐term impact of BEST funding on a sizeable portion of teachers in BEST‐funded districts.”
“The BEST program is just starting to truly get its feet off the ground,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in a statement. He has been a strong proponent of improving statewide student graduation rates and recently announced his own education funding proposal that includes fully funding the BEST grants.
“We all want high-quality educators teaching our students, and this is what the BEST program targets through mentoring and other supports,” he stated.
While budget negotiators are remaining hush about any proposed education package, both sides have expressed interest in additional BEST funding. The Joint Education Task Force was unable to come to an agreement on final recommendations to the legislature at the start of the legislative session. However, both proposed recommendations included further BEST funding, though the Republican plan added that “we must examine the unique regional factors that affect recruitment and retention before adopting a one size fits all model.”