Panel Paper: Taking Their First Steps: The Distribution of New Teachers into Classroom and School Contexts and Implications for Teacher Effectiveness and Growth

Friday, November 9, 2018
Johnson - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sarah Rabovsky1, Paul Bruno1 and Katharine Strunk2, (1)University of Southern California, (2)Michigan State University

Teacher quality has been recognized as one of the most important factors for students’ short- and longer- term outcomes, (see, for example, Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2014; Gershenson, 2016; Koedel, Mihaly, & Rockoff, 2015; Matthew A. Kraft, 2017). Given extensive research focused on identifying effective teachers (e.g., Burnette, 2017; Hanushek & Rivkin, 2012) and concerns about teacher shortages (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017; Podolsky, Kini, Bishop, & Darling-Hammond, 2016; Rich, 2015), many discussions around teachers and education policy have focused on how to recruit effective teachers. These discussions, however, often gloss over the equally important issue of teacher retention and development, which are of particular importance for teachers in their first five years, who experience the highest exit rates from the profession (Papay, Bacher-Hicks, Page, & Marinell, 2017).

The school contexts into which new teachers are placed can have important implications for the outcomes of teacher effectiveness and turnover (e.g., Dee, 2004; Donaldson & Johnson, 2010; Grissom, 2011). Research has begun to accumulate showing that relatively novice teachers tend to sort into placements that are likely to be more challenging along a number of dimensions, for example teaching lower-income students in schools with more disciplinary incidents and lower achievement levels (Feng, 2010). However, these studies typically consider only a small number of characteristics of teachers’ contexts at a time, and there is no comprehensive framework to understand how different contextual features might relate to one another or to new teachers’ outcomes.

Using an extensive dataset linking all teachers, students, and administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District between the 2007-8 through 2015-16 school years, we characterize 26 aspects of teachers’ contexts. We then organize these characteristics along three dimensions according to the extent that they (1) impose instructional demands on teachers, (2) suggest homophily between teachers and their students or colleagues, or (3) indicate more highly-qualified colleagues, and create composite measures of each dimension.

Consistent with prior research, we document both between- and within-school sorting of novice teachers into placements with more disadvantaged students. However, we also extend this literature by showing that, relative to veterans, novice teachers tend to teach where they are likely to enjoy less homphily with their students and coworkers and where their colleagues are less qualified. We then follow new teachers through their initial years in the classroom and show that composite measures of these three contexts are significantly, uniquely, and differentially predictive of new teachers’ outcomes, including their absences from work, contributions to student achievement, evaluation ratings, and mobility.

Our findings provide policymakers with additional evidence for understanding new teachers’ employment contexts. These results suggest that administrators may need to attend to a wider range of contextual features when considering new teacher placements.