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A Crucial First Year for Newly Minted Teachers

The first year of teaching provides vital clues to how a teacher is likely to do over the long haul, concludes a new paper from TNTP, a national alternative preparation program.

The paper is based on data collected by the group during its first year under a revamped teacher-training curriculum. With some help from a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant, TNTP began to introduce a new model for its trainees in 2011-12. Under it, candidates are assessed during the course of their first year in the classroom and have to show that they're well on their way to being effective. (TNTP appears to be one of the first programs, traditional or alternative, that requires its candidates to meet this kind of bar during their first year on the job.)

TNTP scores candidates based on student outcomes, classroom observations, principal ratings, and meeting program requirements such as competing courses. For 2011-12, not every teacher had survey results, and only a handful of teachers were in districts with available 'value added' achievement measures, so keep those points in mind as you review the findings. That year, TNTP recommended 83 percent of candidates for licensure, gave 12 percent another year to improve, and dismissed 5 percent from the program.

Among the findings from the analysis:

  • For the subset of 142 teachers with value-added data, effectiveness ratings were all over the board; 11 percent were ineffective, 30 percent 'developing,' and 27 percent 'skillful.'
  • Most teachers improved on the observation measures over time, but those that started the furthest behind struggled. Many in that category did not improve beyond the "minimally effective" bar, and three out of four were ultimately dismissed.
  • Early performance tended to signal how they would do overall in the program; those who ultimately were licensed entered the observation cycle already at the 'developing' bar on average, while teachers who were given "extension plans" continued to struggle in their second year.
  • Based on the observations, teachers who scored higher on the indicator of "facilitates organized, student-centered, objective-driven lessons" improved more quickly than those with lower scores.
The findings are similar to a recent paper on early-career effectiveness, showing that teachers that do well initially continue to achieve. My colleague Sarah Sparks wrote about that study last month.

There are, of course, several policy implications to these findings. For one, many programs that recommend candidates for licensure don't track how they do in their first year, indicating they could be missing out on some potentially important signals.

But the broader question has to do with cultural norms in the K-12 field, particularly the deep-rooted belief that nearly any teacher can improve over time. The TNTP report, coupled with the earlier paper, seems to be calling that notion into question.

"The first year of teaching must be reconsidered," the report concludes. "it is not a warm-up, but an opportunity to ... make careful assessments about whether new teachers should be developed into career educators or encouraged to pursue another career."

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