SEDL Southwest Educational Development Laboratory

Issues About Change v8.1 - Launching Professional Learning Communities: Beginning Actions

Teacher Mentoring Survey of Texas School Districts: Summary of Results

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by Diane T. Pan

In order to gain an understanding of the current status of teacher mentoring activities in Texas school districts, researchers conducted a statewide survey that was sent to district superintendents during the spring of 2000. These data enabled SEDL to assess the duration Picture of a female teacher and scope of mentoring programs, range of activities, use of resources, and results. The survey was designed to help answer two of the three research questions listed in Chapter One:

  1. How have schools and districts planned and implemented mentoring programs to respond to state policy on teacher induction?
  2. What are characteristics of district or school mentoring programs in the state with respect to resource allocation, range of activities, and effectiveness?

Survey Methodology

The district superintendent was the addressee of the survey form and he or she was instructed to fill out the survey or designate the appropriate staff person to provide the information about mentoring in his or her school district. Questions were limited to those that a district superintendent or designated central office staff person would be able to address. The sample frame consisted of all Texas school districts. The district level designation for this survey sample was sufficient for SEDL's focus on a broad, state-wide data collection effort, although mentoring activities may be occurring formally and informally at the school and even school department level in some areas.

Survey Instrument. Researchers developed the survey instrument based on a general understanding of mentoring in Texas gained from a review of the literature on teacher mentoring and conversations with state policy staff with expertise in teacher mentoring and the TxBESS program. SEDL's advisory panel for this project reviewed drafts of the instrument and provided critical feedback for its development. Local school staff and SEDL staff with current or previous knowledge of mentoring activities in local schools piloted the survey. A mix of forced-choice, scale, and open-ended questions was used in the survey, and it was available in hardcopy and in an online version. A copy of the survey instrument appears in Appendix A.

Implementation. SEDL mailed surveys to school superintendents with a cover letter and instructions. The instructions asked recipients to submit written documentation about their mentoring programs (district policy, description of mentoring activities, assessment materials) along with their completed survey form. Researchers conducted a second mailing as a follow-up and reminder to those who did not respond to the first mailing. To increase the interest of respondents in completing the survey, SEDL offered incentives to schools in the form of 1) a chance to win a small stipend (towards the purchase of school materials), 2) the option of completing the survey on-line through a web-based interface, and 3) the opportunity to receive a copy of the final report on teacher mentoring.

Confidentiality. SEDL informed survey respondents of the intended use of the data that were collected and the level of confidentiality that protected their responses. To guide the research, staff adapted a confidentiality protocol previously established by SEDL policy staff.

Data Entry and Analysis. SEDL conducted manual entry into a web-interfaced database. Entries were double-keyed and error checking was conducted before analysis. Simple descriptive and comparative statistics were used to examine data in response to the relevant research questions. Data analysis was performed using a computer statistical analysis software (SPSS).

Description of Responding Districts

SEDL mailed the teacher mentoring survey to 1,049 Texas school districts. A total of 358 districts returned completed surveys, representing a 34 percent response rate. Of those districts that responded, 275 provided identifying information that was linked to demographic data available through the Texas Education Agency. Seven of the eight Picture of a male teacher largest districts in the state returned completed surveys. The districts that sent identifying information with their completed surveys represent 51 percent of all students in the state and 49 percent of all teachers in the state. Key characteristics of students and teachers appear below.

Characteristics of students in responding districts closely resemble those of the state as a whole in terms of race/ethnicity and in terms of proportions of bilingual/ESL, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficient, and special education students. Similarly, teachers in the surveyed districts are aligned with teachers statewide with regard to race/ethnicity. In terms of teacher tenure, however, surveyed districts generally have a fewer proportion of novice teachers (zero to five years tenure) and a greater proportion of experienced teachers (six or more years tenure). It is uncertain how this disparity may have affected survey results, however, researchers conjecture that the presence/absence of novice teachers in a district might affect administrators' level of attention to new teacher induction and concern with teacher turnover.

Table 3.1

Student Enrollment and Teacher Population of Responding School Districts

 Responding DistructsTexasPercentage of State
Student Enrollment2,014,2453,945,36751.05%
Teacher Population128,295.7259,739.149.39%
n=275

Table 3.2

Rac/Ethnic Characteristics of Students and Teachers of Responding School Districts

Race/Ethnic GroupWhiteHispanicAfrican-AmericanOther
Students
  Responding Districts41%41%15%3%
  Statewide44%39%14%3%
Teachers
  Responding Districts72%17%10%1%
  Statewide75%16%8%1%
n=275

Table 3.3

Teacher Tenure at Responding School Districts

Years of ExperienceFirst year1-5 years6-10 years10-20 years20 or more years
Responding Districts2.0%7.7%24.0%37.5%28.9%
Statewide7.6%26.7%17.7%27.5%20.5%
n=275

Table 3.4

Student Characteristics in Responding School Districts

 Students in Responding DistructsPercentage of All Students in Responding DistrictsStatewide Percentage
Bilingual/ESL266,20013.212.2
Economically Disadvantaged1,000,50749.748.5
Limited English Proficient297,27914.813.6
Special Education234,20811.612.1
n=275

Survey Results

The results of the teacher mentoring survey appear below and are organized into six main sections: perception of teacher shortages, motivations for providing teacher mentoring, mentor program structure, mentor program characteristics, needs and barriers, and program results. These thematic categories contribute to a better understanding of how districts planned and implemented mentoring and the role of motivating factors, including state policy on teacher induction (research question one). A broad understanding of resources, activities, and effectiveness from the school district perspective is also gained through this analysis (research question two).

Perception of Teacher Shortages

Generally, survey respondents do not perceive an overall teacher shortage. Many districts (75 percent) do express that they are experiencing shortages in certain areas (grade levels, content areas, or specializations). The shortage of teachers has affected some districts by increasing teacher training and recruitment costs. More than one quarter felt that teacher shortage is not affecting their districts, although a larger number of smaller districts reported this status than larger districts.

Table 3.5

Perception of Effects of Teacher Attrition on Responding Districts

 Percent of Responding Districts
Shortages in certain grade levels, content areas, or specializations75.3
An increase in teacher training costs28.1
An increase in teacher recruitment costs25.8
Negative effects on students or faculty21.7
An overall teacher shortage in the district15.0
Other4.4
Unsure.8
Multiple response item, n=356

Motivations for Providing Teacher Mentoring

Mentoring has become an important strategy for improving retention of beginning teachers. A number of states in SEDL's region are currently facing a teacher shortage problem, including Texas. Texas districts that returned surveys, however, ranked teacher quality as the priority reason to use mentoring. Survey respondents expressed that the most important motivations for implementing mentoring are to improve the skills of beginning teachers (72 percent) and increase student success (62 percent). Beginning teacher retention is also important, but less so than teacher quality concerns.

Table 3.6

Motivations for Implementing Teacher Mentoring Activities

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Need to improve skills and knowledge of beginning teachers71.9
Desire to increase student achievement 61.0
Need to improve retention of beginning teachers46.8
Desire to build collegial culture among teachers38.4
Compliance with state policy29.0
Response to research results showing benefits of mentoring24.2
Teacher preparation program request for mentoring activities15.3
Need to attract new staff to the district13.6
Teacher requests for mentoring activities12.5
Campus requests for mentoring activities9.2
Other4.2
Multiple response item, n=358

Mentor Program Structure

The survey collected information that contributed to an understanding of the scale of programs existing in the state and the level of focus (state, district, campus) of mentoring activity. As the discussion of timelines and role of the district below reveals, mentoring is fairly widespread in the state and district administration generally plays a lesser role in mentoring than do school campuses.

Timelines. Most districts indicated that their mentoring activities have either increased or have had periods of increase and decrease since an induction requirement first became part of state law in Texas in 1990. Only a small portion of those who could recall a start date for their district mentoring programs reported a date before 1990. Mentoring programs began in the remaining districts throughout the 1990-2000 time span, with slight jumps in the initiation of new programs during 1990 and 1995. The state mandate for teacher mentoring may partly explain the increase of activity since 1990. A small number of districts (34) stated that they do not provide mentoring support.

Table 3.7

Year in which Districts Began Mentoring Support

 Number of DistrictsCumulative Percent
Mentoring not provided349.9
Unsure of start date8434.2
before 19902040.0
19902647.5
1991849.9
19921554.2
19931358.0
19941361.7
19953170.7
19962377.4
19971882.6
19982389.3
19992797.1
200010100.0
n=345

Role of the District Administration. While district administration does play a role in mentoring programs, the primary responsibility for mentoring falls to the individual campus administration. Table 3.8 shows that 65 percent of districts express that teacher mentoring is within the jurisdiction of campus administration. About one quarter of districts locate primary responsibility at the district administrative level.

Table 3.8

Administrative Level with Primary Responsibility for Teacher Mentoring Activities

 Percent of
Responding Districts
District administration26.9
Campus administration65.0
Faculty in individual campus departments or grade levels2.5
Faculty of a teacher preparation program.6
Other.3
n=353

The district administration most often sees itself in the role of determining district-wide policy, overseeing mentoring, providing technical assistance, and assigning beginning teachers a mentor. (1) Less than 15 percent of districts plays a role in planning mentoring activities for individual campuses.

Table 3.9

Role of District Administration in Mentoring Activities

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Determines district policy and communicates policy to schools53.2
Oversees and monitors teacher mentoring activities41.4
Provides technical assistance40.8
Assigns beginning teachers a mentor40.3
Provides other resources (e.g. financial, staff)36.6
Selects mentors34.4
Provides mentor training33.5
Plans mentoring activities at the campus level14.6
District administration is not involved in mentoring8.7
Other3.1
Unsure2.8
Multiple response item, n=355

Mentor Program Characteristics

Survey information helped shed light on mentoring program characteristics that are linked to inputs and resources necessary for supporting teacher mentoring. These program features were thought best gained from the survey, due to its emphasis on district-level and district-wide activity rather than on how mentoring is implemented at the campus or classroom levels. Researchers worked from the assumption that the perspective from the district administration would best inform a broader structural context for mentoring. Case study results, meanwhile, were intended as the primary source data on the range of successful mentoring practices taken up by local schools (see Chapter Five).

Resources. In the table below, it is clear that staff time is a critical resource for mentoring programs. Training for mentors is also a resource identified by nearly 40 percent of districts. Funds for stipends and for substitute teacher wages are also important. However, far more districts use resources to pay for mentor stipends than for beginning teacher stipends. Approximately 28 percent of districts provide an incentive or stipend to their mentors while only 5 percent provide incentives or stipends for beginning teachers.

Table 3.10

Resources Used to Operate Mentoring Programs

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Mentors' time48.9
Beginning teachers' time41.9
Training for mentors38.5
Materials or equipment36.8
Administrative staff time28.7
Mentor incentive or stipend27.8
Substitute teacher wages17.1
Beginning teacher stipend5.1
Other2.2
No resources are used to operate mentoring19.4
Multiple response item, n=358

Assessment of Beginning Teachers. Nearly 60 percent of respondents indicate that beginning teachers are assessed as part of the district's mentoring activities. While formative assessment of beginning teachers is a key component of the state's TxBESS program, it is not clear whether districts' participation in TxBESS increased the likelihood that they would practice assessments as part of mentoring. Data do show that those districts that are involved in TxBESS and those that are not participating in the state initiative perform assessments as part of mentoring for beginning teachers. This may indicate that assessment is already an established part of teacher mentoring at the local level.

Mentor Training. The data indicate two patterns with regard to mentor training. Districts either provide a short-term (less than one day to one week) training (31 percent) or provide training opportunities throughout the school year for mentors (34 percent). Nearly one quarter of the districts provide no training for their mentors.

Table 3.11

Mentor Training

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Ongoing during the first year as a mentor34.0
Ongoing during the first semester as a mentor.8
More than two weeks.3
One to two weeks2.2
One day to one week20.7
Less than one day10.1
Mentor training is not currently provided23.5
unsure8.1
n=354

Outside Support. Some districts receive outside funds for mentoring (38 percent) and a substantial number receive non-financial support (72 percent). The Regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) provide non-financial support to 60 percent of districts and funding to 19 percent. Much of this support from the ESCs might be a result of training and orientations provided to districts beginning in early 2000 as part of the TxBESS program. Other minor sources of outside support include teacher preparation programs and state government.

Table 3.12

Outside Financial Support Received by Districts for Mentoring Activities

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Education Service Center18.7
State government14.2
Teacher preparation program5.7
Federal government3.1
Other1.7
Unsure5.6
No outside financial support is received 62.3
Multiple response item, n=354

Table 3.13

Outside non-Financial Support Received by Districts for Mentoring Activities

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Education Service Center60.1
Teacher preparation program15.9
Other Texas school district6.8
Professional association or organization5.7
State government3.7
Other2.3
Unsure5.6
No outside financial support is received 28.0
Multiple response item, n=354

Needs and Barriers

From the district perspective, the greatest barrier to the provision of effective mentoring to beginning teachers involves the resources available to allow mentor teachers to participate in mentoring activities. First, districts face a scarcity of funds to pay stipends to mentor teachers. Second, district respondents perceive experienced teachers as not having the extra time to devote to mentoring. Veteran teachers, nonetheless, generally do not lack the willingness to volunteer to serve as mentors; only 14 percent of respondents indicated that experienced teachers were unwilling to serve as mentors.

Insufficient time and staffing resources are also frequently cited barriers with respect to the lack of district and campus administrators' time, and lack of training for mentors. Need for guidance and other resources and materials are also mentioned as barriers to effective mentoring. Only 18 percent of respondents stated that they have not experienced major barriers in implementing their program.

Responding districts rated the mentoring support they provide to beginning teachers fairly evenly along a continuum between programs that seem to be established and working well and programs that still need improvement. More than 40 percent of districts reported that their programs are well established and either already provide a broad range of activities that benefit teachers or need only minor improvements. An equal proportion of districts describe their programs as relatively new, but are seeing improvement or understand that there is a need for improvement. A few districts (12.3 percent) have not developed their program beyond the planning stages.

Table 3.14

Barriers to Implementing Mentoring Activities

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Stipends for mentors are scarce or not available64.4
Experienced teachers do not have the time to serve as mentors56.2
Administrators do not have the time to oversee mentoring activities40.4
District and/or campuses have limited expertise in planning or operating a mentoring program29.1
Training for mentors is scarce or not available23.4
State guidance or assistance for mentoring is not sufficient22.9
Resources or materials for mentoring activities are scarce or not available19.5
Experienced teachers are unwilling to volunteer to serve as mentors14.4
Beginning teachers are not interested in receiving mentoring support2.0
Other5.6
We have not experienced major barriers17.5
Multiple response item, n=354

Table 3.15

Assessment of Mentoring Support

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Contains a broad range of activities and positively affects all beginning teachers10.9
Is well established but might benefit from minor improvements or additions30.6
Is a relatively new program and seems to be improving17.7
Is just beginning and still has many areas to be improved22.3
Has not developed beyond the planning stages and will take time to implement effectively12.3
Other6.3
n=346

Nearly all responding districts identified one or more supports that would improve their mentoring program; only eight districts reported needing no supports. Districts overwhelmingly identified the need for additional financial support for mentors, beginning teachers, or program staff. A majority (56 percent) also identified a need for mentor training. Some districts (29 percent) also felt that support for materials and equipment would improve their mentoring efforts.

More than a third of responding districts (39 percent) felt that technical assistance in the planning and implementation of mentoring activities would improve their program. Advice or assistance from other districts with successful programs was identified by 21 percent of respondents, and nearly the same proportion of districts felt that evaluation of the effectiveness of their mentoring activities would provide feedback for improving their program. Guidance from the state was identified by 18 percent as a potential source of program improvement.

Some districts (12.3 percent) felt that the participation of a local teacher preparation program would improve their mentoring program. Fewer districts (9.7 percent) felt that assessment of their beginning teachers would improve their program.

Table 3.16

Supports that Would Improve Mentoring Program

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Financial support for mentors, beginning teachers, or program staff77.8
Training for mentors55.8
Technical assistance for planning and implementing mentoring activities38.7
Materials or equipment29.1
Advice or assistance from other school districts with successful programs20.5
Evaluation of the effectiveness of mentoring activities18.5
State guidance on how to plan and implement mentoring activities17.7
Participation of local teacher preparation program12.3
Assessment of beginning teachers9.7
Other3.7
No supports are needed2.3
Multiple response item, n=351

Program Results

As presented earlier in this chapter, the most prevalent motivation identified by districts for providing mentoring to beginning teachers is to improve the skills and knowledge of beginning teachers. The majority of responding districts perceive that they are attaining that goal; 63 percent identify the improved skills and knowledge of beginning teachers as a result of mentoring activities. Improved job satisfaction (47 percent), student achievement (33 percent), and work environment (32 percent) are also observed. Teacher retention is lower on the list (23 percent), but observed.

Table 3.17

Most Important Results of Mentoring Support for Beginning Teachers

 Percent of
Responding Districts
Improved skills and knowledge of beginning teachers62.5
Increased job satisfaction among beginning teachers46.5
Increased student achievement32.7
Improved campus work environment31.8
Increased retention of beginning teachers22.8
Improved relationship between district and teacher preparation program6.5
Other1.7
Unsure3.7
No identified results of mentoring activities20.8
Multiple response item, n=351

Retention of beginning teachers is not perceived by responding districts as the most important result of mentoring support, and the data above reveal that other results such as teacher quality, work environment, and student success are valued more by districts. At the same time, however, responding districts do feel that mentoring activities contribute to both teacher quality and teacher retention almost equally.

Table 3.18

Success Rating of Mentoring Activities

 Very
successful
Fairly
successful
Not very
successful
Not at all
successful
Improves the quality of beginning teachers18.5%66.8%12.1%2.6%
Retains beginning teachers16.1%65.4%14.6%3.9%
n=340

Summary

Results from SEDL's statewide survey of Texas school districts reveal important findings for an understanding of the scope and scale of beginning teacher mentoring activity in the state. Survey respondents indicate a clear commitment to supporting beginning teachers for the purposes of addressing teacher quality and retention and ultimately serving students better. The district-level analysis that the survey afforded reveals that successful and comprehensive mentoring efforts are difficult to implement and require both financial and non-financial inputs. Teacher mentoring activities are most often the responsibility of local campuses, although district administration plays an important role in key areas. A majority of districts are implementing at least a minimal teacher mentoring program for beginning teachers. Many districts are working to improve their services to beginning teachers and, through their survey responses, identify key resources that might assist them in their efforts.

Major conclusions drawn from these survey findings are incorporated with the conclusions of the two other research strands and are presented in the final chapter of this report (Chapter Six).


Notes:
1: As currently written, state law requires that all beginning teachers be "assigned a mentor teacher," so districts may comply with the law by making such an assignment. No further policy direction is given regarding actual mentoring support activities.

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