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UPDATED: Intensive Teacher Mentoring Not Showing Effects, Report Finds


Some bad news for supporters of intensive, or "high quality," teacher induction: Teachers were no more likely to boost student achievement or to stay in the profession after two years of these services, compared with teachers who received less-intensive forms of mentoring, according to a new Institute of Education Sciences report released this afternoon.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because this report offers the second year of findings from a three-year study. I wrote about the year-one effects here. The findings are notable because of the study's "gold standard" research design, which involves a set of "treatment" and "comparison" schools.

Intensive-mentoring programs are typically more comprehensive and structured than the more informal "buddy systems" that are widespread in America's schools. Mentors in the program are also more carefully screened and assigned to novices. The two most widely known models are those run by the New Teacher Center, in Santa Cruz, Calif., and by the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, which were used in the schools studied here.

The year-two study was conducted by comparing a subset of schools that received a second year of intensive mentoring in about seven school districts, to a pool of schools that received the regular district-sponsored mentoring programs. The findings were similar to those in year I: Teachers receiving the intensive mentoring were more likely than those in the control group to report that they were assigned a mentor and spent more time overall in mentoring activities.

But the additional mentoring just doesn't seem to be translating into better student reading and math scores or teacher-retention rates. It also doesn't seem to be affecting the type of teacher who chooses to stay or leave the profession.

I'm no research expert, but I'd say it's fairly common for one year of a treatment not to have an effect; big, complicated programs like these intensive-mentoring initiatives can take a while to be put into place and iron out all the kinks. After two years, though, one does wonder where the disconnect might lie.

I'll update this blog item shortly as more reaction pours in from the field. Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1: The New Teacher Center has a release out on the study. It says that the design of the study didn't permit schools to replicate its induction model fully. For instance, the mentor-selection and supervision process was not conducted using the NTC's protocols. Also, the mentoring provided in the "comparison" groups was better than originally thought, so the schools receiving the intensive mentoring may not have had a strong enough "dosage" to differ from the comparison schools. These issues, NTC contends, may have led to the "no effects" results.

"In sum, we recognize that the Mathematica study was an experiment, not an induction program. We believe that it may not reflect the significant outcomes that can be achieved when districts have the time, capacity and willingness to focus on an in-depth, universal implementation of all elements of high-quality induction," New Teacher Center officials wrote.

You can read more about NTC's general issues with the study here.

UPDATE 2: Also, to clarify the first paragraph in this blog item, Mathematica Policy Research conducted the study for IES.


Speaking as an experienced educational practioner and as a researcher, I submit that typically new teachers can expect to see significantly positive student outcomes when incorporating best practices during their third year and beyond (if they follow those practices with fidelity). Those that experience significant growth before that time (year one or two) are truly gifted educators and anomolies. Those that do not see significant growth by their third year are usually not the right fit for the profession.

This research certainly needs to be done. However, it strikes me that the outcomes might be more long-term than short-term. That means we're going to have to wait several years to actually discover the impact of mentoring on teacher retention, etc.

This research certainly needs to be done. However, it strikes me that the outcomes might be more long-term than short-term. That means we're going to have to wait several years to actually discover the impact of mentoring on teacher retention, etc.

The research on teaching suggests that it takes from 3-5 year to learn to teach. A good mentoring program should decrease the amount of time to be effective. Many teachers leave the profession before they learn to be good teachers, perhaps thinking they are not cut our for the profession. a good mentoring program could speed up the learning curve and positive support might keep them in the profession. Additionally, teachers need to hit the groudn running with little time to learn to teach at the expense of student learning.

I am a former director of the Beginning Educator Support and Training (BEST) Program--Connecticut's "comprehensive induction" program--for nearly 2 decades. This program included district/school-based mentoring, state-provided professional development for beginning teachers and their mentors/mentor teams, and the requirement for beginning teachers to demonstrate teaching competency through a content-focused teaching portfolio in order to continue to be eligible for certification. In the past year, the program has been radically altered, including the elimination of any substantive form of accountability for beginning teachers in demonstrating teaching effectiveness--largely the result of political pressure and the difficulty in making direct connections between the portfolio assessment and its direct impact on student achievement--alas, a common dilemma in education research! In retrospect, I believe the flaws leading to the BEST Program's eventual demise were not setting a high enough standard for beginning teachers, the state's failure to provide adequate resources targeted at teachers identified as needing more help, and disconnects between state standards for teachers and local district evaluation practices (which continue to be primarily generic [not subject-specific], observation based and not incorporating multiple sources of evidence of teaching effectiveness such as student work).

So, it is not surprising that the Mathematica study produces nebulous differences between the NTC and ETS induction interventions and the district-based "control" mentoring models, especially over a two year period. Mentoring/induction does not exist in a vacuum--it reflects the values and norms of the school/district. If all teachers are held to high standards, then chances are novices are, too. If the culture/norms of a district do not support collaboration among teachers, classroom-based data analysis and decision-making, and teacher leadership, then chances are that beginning teachers and their mentors operate in isolation and fail to realize the potential of the support system. And let's face the reality--some beginning teachers are not suited to the profession, and a strong, comprehensive induction program should sort those teachers from those who just need extra time and resources to become more effective.

Providing assistance to new entrants to any profession should be a "no brainer," more so when ineffective teachers can have long-lasting effects on students. Study design continues to be a problem, but so, too, does our definition of "comprehensive induction." It needs to be strengthened to include standards and accountability of beginning teachers, their mentors/mentor teams, principals and districts.

Unfortunately, most mentorship programs last only one year. There is too much going on in a new teacher's life to have only a one year program. Think about what rookie athletes have for a support system. Do coaches and teams stop molding and supporting the new hires after the first year? Of course not! Why should we treat rookie teachers different than rookie athletes? The answer lies in what we hold dear in our country.

I am a seasoned mentor for inductees who try to keep their heads above water the first year.In the two years that follow I watch them begin to replicate good teaching, then eventually develop their own successful teaching practices.
Mentoring is still a crucial element
in their first three years.

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