Far-reaching plan to strengthen teaching in California

To reinvigorate its force of teachers and principals, California doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. It could start by fixing the one that’s bent and broken because of years of neglect.

That’s one of the messages from Greatness by Design, an extensive report from Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s 48-member Task Force on Educator Excellence, cochaired by Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond and Long Beach Unified superintendent Christopher Steinhauser. On Monday, the task force released its 90-page report on how the state should overhaul how it attracts, prepares, trains and develops, evaluates, and retains its educator workforce.

Some of the ideas are bold and will be controversial:

  • Opening up teacher preparation programs to college undergraduates;
  • Sunsetting all existing administrative credentialing programs, and requiring them to relicense based on new requirements; and
  • Moving toward replacing automatic raises for teachers based on years of service with a career ladder of higher paying jobs based on accomplishment.

Others will sound familiar. Having Darling-Hammond, who’s vice chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and Steinhauser leading the effort increases the chances that some of the work may actually get done.

Stanford University Professor of Education Linda Darling Hammond reviews findings of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson's Task Force on Educator Excellence, which she co-chaired. Photo by the state Department of Education (click to enlarge).

Linda Darling-Hammond reviews findings of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Task Force on Educator Excellence, which she co-chaired, during a press conference Monday in Sacramento. Photo by the state Department of Education (click to enlarge).

California was once the laboratory for the nation in creating programs to build a force of effective teachers and administrators. They include:

  • Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program. In its heyday, BTSA, which provides mentoring to beginning teachers, reduced turnover for novice teachers and built their confidence. But many districts have cut corners and no longer do the program with fidelity.
  • The Peer Assistance and Review Program. PAR provides intensive assistance for struggling teachers and an objective panel of teachers and administrators to decide whether they can continue in the their district. Few districts now have PAR.
  • Governor’s Fellowships, offering $20,000 in tuition aid to those who pledged services in high-needs schools. It was a victim of budget cuts.
  • The California School Leadership Academy, which created ongoing training for superintendents, principals, teachers, and other staff, was copied by nearly two dozen states.

In the good years, the state invested in educator preparation and development. The report described the present status as follows:

“Teacher education is uneven in duration and quality. … In California, principals may skip preparation altogether by taking a paper-and-pencil test for a license – the only state in the nation to allow this.”

“Professional development time and opportunities are sorely underfunded. The 10 days per year that California once funded for professional development time have long since disappeared.”

“Evaluation is frequently spotty.”

“Leadership pathways are, in most districts, poorly defined and poorly supported.”

“Salaries are highly inequitable, with those in the most well-heeled districts paid considerably more and supported with better working conditions.”

Bigger investment, right priorities

Improvements will require investments, although the report says they can be targeted, such as paying stipends to National Board Certified teachers to teach in needy schools, as Los Angeles Unified has done, and offering subsidies to attract teachers to high-needs specialties, such as special education.

Less experienced, less trained teachers tend to concentrate in high-poverty districts. Source: Greatness By Design (click to enlarge).

Less experienced, less trained teachers tend to concentrate in high-poverty districts. Source: Greatness By Design (click to enlarge).

But adopting a weighted student funding formula, redistributing more money to schools with heavy populations of disadvantaged students, and truly enforcing federal Title I funding rules, requiring comparable spending between a district’s poor and wealthy schools, will demand the will of the state Department of Education and district leaders, not just money, to create equity in the allocation of experienced teachers.

In the area of education preparation, the challenge will be to set priorities, which the Commission on Teaching Credentialing may begin to do when it meets later this month. The report includes some of the ideas Darling-Hammond has sought for years:

  • Standardize the time aspiring teachers must spend in a classroom before getting a credential. The report says California may be the only state with no specific requirement for supervised student teaching;
  • With California’s adoption of the Common Core standards, update the license requirements for schools of education to incorporate techniques of teaching and content for higher order thinking;
  • Drop the 40-year-old “antiquated” ban on undergraduate teacher education majors and consider four- and five-year preparation programs used in other states. California’s restriction has led to cramming teacher education into a one-year program at the same time that the state has added course requirements for teaching English learners and special education;
  • Overhaul administrator credentialing programs, which basically have been unregulated, to make admissions more selective (with nominations by districts) and to require extensive field work under the supervision of an expert administrator and mentoring by a principal;
  • Add pressure on schools of education to hold them accountable for the results of the strenuous performance assessments that all teacher candidates in California must take before they can enter a classroom.

Collaboration time

The task force called for strengthening mentoring of new teachers under BTSA and setting aside more time for collaborative planning among teachers – a practice extensively done in higher-performing nations like Finland and Singapore. Contrary to the move toward giving districts more flexibility over spending, the report recommends requiring a portion of state funding be spent on training and development, with districts given latitude over choices.

There was no enthusiasm for merit pay approach, Darling-Hammond said in an interview. What the task force advocates is a career ladder for teachers, with job opportunities and pay differentials, reflecting expertise and classroom accomplishment: content specialist, master teacher, PAR evaluator, mentor.  The scale and levels would be determined locally, with the state providing models and sponsoring regional labor-management conferences to promote the concept.

The idea, Darling-Hammond said, is to “reward people for sharing knowledge and improving the quality of teaching, not just based on a good rating from the principal,” she said.

The task force report also devoted a long chapter with multiple recommendations on teacher and principal evaluations. The report is critical of using value-added metrics for individual teacher evaluations;  value-added systems attempt to account for differences in student demographics in test scores. The report also is down on relying on state standardized tests and recommends instead multiple measures of student achievement, including scored essays or projects, created by teachers, schools or districts; results on AP tests and tests directly tied to the curriculum being taught.

Coming two weeks after a bitter battle and standoff on a bill rewriting the state law on teacher evaluations, the report endorses negotiating major aspects of teacher evaluations – a chief point of contention leading to the defeat of AB 5. But the report lays out an approach to build a consensus among teachers, administrators and the district that offers an alternative to conflict.

“The focus of any evaluation system should be to improve practice, to close achievement gaps among various groups of students and to prepare more students for success in college and careers,” the report says. “Any evaluation system that strays from this basic tenet also strays from the basic mission of serving all students.”

Steinhauser co-chaired the evaluation subcommittee for the task force, and the report drew upon the collaborative approach in Long Beach. Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Assn., State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, and Merrill Vargo, executive director of Pivot Learning Partners, were among the subcommittee members.


Filed under: Credentialing, Pay and Tenure, Preparation, Teaching

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5 Responses to “Far-reaching plan to strengthen teaching in California”

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  1. navigio on Nov 3, 2012 at 9:37 am11/3/2012 9:37 am

    • 000

    I would like to resurrect this thread in the context of the recent stories about union waiver sign-ons. One question specifically: as I read through this report, there is a recurring theme that whats needed requires a renewed investment and/or reversal of funding paradigms. However, in the current climate (and the future one imho), I dont see this likely to happen, what do we do if that critical assumption is not even valid?
    The report essentially assumes the worst as a result of the ‘status quo’, and thus seems to be saying this trend will continue (and actually get worse) if left alone. If we cannot implement these things due to resource constraints, then what do we do? Give up? (admittedly, I have heard comments from superintendents already that equate to something like ‘well, we can hope to focus on the next generation once we get adequate funding’ — not something I want to hear).
    I would like to direct this question to anyone who was involved in the report.

    (I will leave out the argument of whether the report specifics are otherwise appropriate or accurate for the moment, since I am really concerned about the current stance that school administrations seem to be taking).

  2. Gary Ravani on Sep 11, 2012 at 4:10 pm09/11/2012 4:10 pm

    • 000

    It is interesting to note all of the issues around the under-resourcing of the state’s school system, e.g., 47th in per pupil funding, largest class sizes, fewest nurses, psychologists, librarians, counselors, and administrators per student, and how that parallel complaints about poor performance. Some of that must be related to the profound lack of knowledge (or is it lack of simple respect) for the task educators must deal with and the skill levels required to do it.

    Often it is suggested that because almost everyone has been in school they feel they understand what it takes to actually teach in a school. It’s just the opposite of being a student. Simple, no? It is right up to the point you actually try it.

    Can you imagine someone suggesting that there might be really good doctors and engineers just wandering the streets. These people have no actual training or credentials but they might do very well if it were not for all the artificial obstructions (education, training, and licensing) that keep them from designing bridges and performing surgery. And they might. We might also end up with a load of dead patients and collapsed bridges. Which alternative is most likely?

    So we get the argument, in the face of prodigious amounts of research, that teacher training institutions and licensing aren’t really necessary. Costs must be contained after all, ahem. Of course the bulk of the research shows that teacher credentialing and experience have a powerful impact on student achievement. It’s as far away as google…the truth is out there. Then again, there are a number of “studies” that provide counter arguments. Those come from a suspiciously narrow set of “think tanks” with reputations for a certain ideological slant. Coincidently those studies also focus on “cost containment.”

    I’ve heard of a really “cost contained” medical training program. It gives entrants just five weeks of training before putting them in hospitals to perform…oh you know…brain surgery and such. The program is called Doctors For America. Those interested can likely find some very good deals for their medical needs. Good luck.

  3. Eric Premack on Sep 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm09/11/2012 2:16 pm

    • 000

    It would be interesting to add up what California spends on teacher credentialing and preparation and consider whether a fundamentally different approach might be worth considering–and whether the state or feds should be micro-managing the topic.

    The Commission on Teacher Credentialing alone costs $45 million/year and is just the tip of the iceberg. Add on BTSA, the cost of credential-checkers at districts and county offices, etc., and one is still at the tip of the iceberg. Add what the state spends on tuition subsidies and direct appropriations to state colleges/universities and for teacher prep and more of the iceberg comes into sight–probably hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Then there are huge indirect costs, including the time spent by teachers to go through the credentialing maze, attend BTSA, etc. along with the inability to hire otherwise-qualified teachers who may be great teachers but who don’t meet the formal, legal requirements. Probably billions of dollars per year.

    Ditto for BTSA and many other costly state and federal mandates. Though common lore is that BTSA improves teacher retention, a closer examination of the research is much more ambiguous. PPIC published a glowing report in 2006 asserting that BTSA “improved elementary school teacher retention by 26 percent.” This study, however, seemingly ignored other profound changes in the larger context (e.g., implementation of the K-3 Class Size Reduction program) and suffered from other glaring methodological flaws (e.g., comparing more experienced teachers with brand new ones).

    Subsequent researchers, including a study cited in “Greatness by Design” found that “while retention is up, it is difficult to attribute this fact to any particular program, policy or demographic trend.” Despite the high cost and ambiguous results, this “Greatness” report and others continue to assume that (1) BTSA is effective and (2) BTSA is more cost-effective than other approaches. Ditto for many other programs.

    Given the fact that credentialing and student achievement have an at-best tenuous relationship, it’s worth asking whether the state or federal governments should play any role in micro-managing teacher and administrator preparation.

  4. R.S. Rosales on Sep 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm09/11/2012 12:34 pm

    • 000

    The largest problems facing teachers today are the budget and the union-negotiated “last hired, first fired” process. I am a single semester of student teaching from having a credential and I will never spend the money to get it. As a parent, I would never jeopardize my career, the well-being of my family, to enter a profession that has no accountability based on performance and is sustained by teachers safe in the “first hired, last fired” process. The only people that will be able to be teachers will be affluent sycophants and stay-at-home parents with large disposable incomes; individuals that very few of today’s students will ever relate to or have any understanding of.

  5. navigio on Sep 11, 2012 at 10:21 am09/11/2012 10:21 am

    • 000

    It looks like only 6 of the 48 member task force are currently teachers. Not sure whether to be concerned by that..

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