Lessons in leveraging pooling power to increase teacher effectiveness and retention.
GUEST COLUMN | by Kimberly Owen
Iowa is both like and unlike other states when it comes to education. Like many other states, we use Area Education Agencies (AEAs), which were developed in 1974 in response to the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) to provide support services required by the act. However, we face a unique set of challenges within our state. For example in the greater Grant Wood region of Iowa, the Grant Wood AEA (GWAEA) is passionate about curtailing teacher attrition in rural districts, and developing special education teachers who can close the achievement gap for children with special needs. Our GWAEA has worked tirelessly to combat these issues, often partnering with organizations to help increase teacher effectiveness and retention, such as New Teacher Center (NTC), and capitalizing on local and national experts to raise awareness of how to best educate children with diverse learning needs. We knew from the start that the key to improving
The majority of our budget is tied to special education, with the remainder allocated to provide other important support to schools, which includes teacher development and induction, media and technology.
teacher retention – and ultimately student achievement – would be to provide our teachers with added support to take on the incredibly rewarding and yet incredibly difficult task of ensuring success for all children in our region.
Special Education and Teacher Retention
The highest turnover rate for teachers is in special education, where they are three or four times more likely to leave the classroom in the first three to five years than teachers in standard classrooms. These teachers often feel unprepared for the reality of the classroom, as do many teachers, but the special education classroom adds extra complexity and challenges that can be exceptionally difficult for first time teachers to manage. The higher turnover in these classrooms meant that our children with the greatest needs were being served regularly by new, inexperienced teachers. While this instability certainly wasn’t intentional, the result is that these children weren’t getting the equity in education they deserved.
While we could view special education support and teacher development as separate issues, we saw and continue to see them as closely tied. The majority (75 percent) of our GWAEA budget is tied to special education, with the remainder allocated to provide other important support to schools, which includes teacher development and induction, media (books, videos, curriculum) and technology. Our goal has been to reduce teacher turnover and accelerate new teacher development in order to provide a consistent and high quality education to children across the board. The strategy we chose was to provide job-embedded support to these teachers, giving them the resources they need to continue in the profession and achieve their highest potential. After thorough research, mentoring and instructional coaching were the solutions we decided to implement.
We quickly realized that each district in the GWAEA couldn’t implement the most effective models of mentoring and coaching programs alone. The districts in our region vary greatly in size and many smaller districts wouldn’t have been able to afford to fund high-quality programs independently. To ensure all districts were tackling this problem together, we formed the Grant Wood Area Induction Consortium and pooled our resources to make certain that every school in the region had access to proven and research-based induction, mentoring and coaching programs. Sharing these resources enabled smaller districts access to programs they couldn’t afford on their own, and larger districts were able to reduce costs and increase the impact and reach of the programs. These programs, supported in partnership with NTC, are aimed at helping new teachers get up to speed faster and encourage continued growth, development and job satisfaction for experienced teachers. When we started work with NTC, GWAEA noted that 30-50 percent of new teachers were leaving within the first five years on the job, which was staggering, especially considering the cost of recruiting and preparing new teachers. Recruiting, hiring and developing replacement teachers can cost between $4,366 – $10,000 in rural districts and $15,325 – $17,872 in urban districts.
Partnering for Success
The Grant Wood Area Induction Consortium took the task of finding partners to help us improve teacher retention and student achievement through teacher induction and coaching very seriously. We were looking for a partner that had proven, measurable success – which brought us to NTC in 2005. NTC was an ideal partner for us, because they work in collaboration with districts to provide educators with the support and resources they need from their first day to their last. We were impressed by their results-oriented programs, which aligned with our districts’ learning goals and addressed teacher induction, instructional coaching and school leadership development. In addition to NTC, GWAEA continues to work with other partners to help drive success in the region, including Solution Tree, Marzano Research Lab, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and specialized experts on autism, behavior, speech language pathology, occupational therapy/physical therapy and literacy.
Generating Real Results
Launching rigorous induction and coaching programs has dramatically reduced teacher attrition in the Grant Wood districts since 2005. At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, 95 percent of new teachers planned to remain within the consortium and 86 percent reported that they planned to teach at their same school the following year. This is a huge improvement from having only 50-70 percent of teachers staying in the profession regionally during their first five years. We were excited to find that our teacher satisfaction also improved. We received great feedback across the board from teachers, mentors and administrators about the benefits of the program.
According to one mentor for Grant Wood AEA, “The most valuable features of this program are that all teachers within the consortium are provided with a full-release mentor, which means more support for all our teachers, regardless of their district size, budget, population, or zip code. The other valuable feature is that our program is as good as our mentors. This program works because of the people within it. It is vital the quality mentors are in the field, working with teachers and administrators. The last valuable feature is the training provided – it is second to none.”
Equity Among Learners
By forming the Grant Wood Area Induction Consortium and pooling resources, we were able to have a measureable impact on all the children in our region, and specifically improve the retention of teachers for special needs children. Providing high quality teachers and reducing teacher loss in early years has helped us provide equity in learning to children no matter what their background or learning needs. Now teachers in rural and urban areas all benefit from the resources of the consortium and can participate in the support and development opportunities we offer. In turn, our teachers provide a more stable, equitable learning environment for our kids.
Kimberly Owen is the Mentoring and Induction Regional Administrator at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency.