Inexperienced Teachers More Common in Low Income Schools

A report released by the Carsey Institute finds that low-income and racially diverse communities are more likely to have inexperienced teachers in their classrooms than schools in wealthier and whiter areas. The same can be said about large urban centers, small rural communities and remote towns.

Douglas Gagnon and Marybeth J. Mattingly, who authored the report, argue that since inexperienced teachers lack the expertise of their colleagues who have been on the job longer, they are, overall, less effective in educating their students. This contention is borne out by the comparison of achievement gains of students who have an instructor of some years’ experience and students who do not.

Additionally, beginning teachers are more likely to leave the profession than those who have weathered at least a few years in the classroom. Thus, employing a large percentage of beginning teachers is costly both to a district and students. For these reasons, the concentration of beginning teachers is an important dimension of school quality.

Beginning teachers, who are defined in the report as those who have been on the job for less than two years, make up on average about 9% of all teachers across U.S. school districts, but the distribution is by no means uniform. They make up a larger percentage of instructional staff in school districts that tend to rate high on the number of local residents living in poverty or are in racially diverse or predominantly minority communities.

Although 9.3% is the average, the differences in the numbers of beginning teachers in various states and regions is quite large. In Michigan, which has the lowest proportion of beginning teachers in the country, they make up only 5.5% of the instructional staff. In Florida, 22% of all teachers are in their first two years on the job. Washington, D.C, which has undergone an extensive overhaul of its education system under the previous head Michelle Rhee, has more than 40% of all teachers are classified as beginners.

The authors write that while having new teachers in the system is a net benefit for districts since they serve to replenish a retiring workforce, once the proportion of beginning teachers reaches a “critical value,” which the paper defines as 17%, the overall quality of instruction in the district begins to suffer.

On the other hand, districts with a small concentration of beginning teachers may find it easier—and less costly—to mentor those teachers than districts with a high percentage of beginning teachers. Research has shown that beginning teachers without a mentor are much more likely to leave the profession than those with a mentor. Also, if a district has too many beginning teachers, it may no longer have the resources to meet its instructional and professional development needs.

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