Credit: Berkeley Unified School District / Mark Coplan

Berkeley High math teacher Christopher Knight discusses his experience with BTSA during the district's 2014 BTSA colloquium honoring graduates of the program. Next to him is his mentor teacher, Scott Wilson, a math teacher at the high school.

A new report concludes that California’s mentoring program for novice teachers, once a national model, has deteriorated due to lack of funding and district commitment, and provides little help for the many new teachers who enter the profession as permanent substitutes or temporary hires.

“We cannot know how many good teachers California has lost as a result of its incoherent and inconsistent beginning teacher policies. Suffice it to say, pursuing a teaching career in California requires substantial persistence and more than a little good luck,” state Julia Koppich and Daniel Humphries in Bumpy Path Into a Profession: What California’s Beginning Teachers Experience, which was published last week by Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonpartisan research organization affiliated with Stanford University, UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California.

Koppich, a San Francisco-based education consultant, and Humphries, a senior education researcher with SRI International, recommend a series of changes to help new teachers progress: creating a more effective evaluation system for new teachers; hiring fewer temporary teachers while providing more support for those who are hired; and reaffirming a commitment to the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment System, better known by its acronym, BTSA.

Some districts have reduced their funding or assigned multiple teachers to one mentor, while others dismantled their programs, forcing their new teachers to seek programs in other districts at their own expense.

BTSA was created in 1998 for first- and second-year teachers to improve their methods and to encourage them to stay in the profession. Each new teacher was overseen by a veteran teacher who assigned them instructional activities.

All teachers are required to complete BTSA to obtain a final or “clear” teaching credential. For the first decade, the state paid for the program through dedicated funding to districts. But starting in 2008, the Legislature gave districts flexibility to spend dedicated or “categorical” funds for BTSA and dozens of other programs however they want. According to the report, some districts have reduced their funding or assigned multiple teachers to one mentor. Others dismantled their programs, forcing their new teachers to seek programs in other districts at their own expense. Teachers and mentors complain about the paperwork and perfunctory checklists of requirements.

The Legislature created BTSA on the assumption that new teachers would go through it during their first two years on the job. But, the report says, about a quarter of the state’s first- through third-year teachers since 1999 have been hired as temporary teachers to fill a leave-of-absence or short-term vacancy. Many districts don’t provide BTSA or formal evaluations for teachers hired as temps, but they should be required to, the report states. The number of temporary teachers is likely higher, because of unreliable data, according to the report. It adds, “Often, the two-year path to tenure is longer and much more circuitous than state policy anticipates.”

Koppich and Humphries didn’t take a position on the controversial lawsuit Vergara v. California, which claims that the state’s two-year probationary period, leading to tenure or permanent status, is too short a time to judge a teacher’s capabilities. In his preliminary ruling on the case, Los Angeles District Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed with that position. He threw out the two-year probationary period and four other labor-protection laws.

The report concludes, based on interviews and a review of 41 probationary teacher files in sample districts, that the evaluation of new teachers is neither rigorous nor helpful to teachers. Most of the evaluations were based on brief classroom observations. “Evaluations,” the report says, “provide only a rough approximation of beginning teachers’ performance and precious little in the way of guidance for improvement.”

BTSA mentors have a better knowledge of new teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, and can make suggestions for improvement, the report notes, but current regulations prevent them from sharing their observations with principals. Teachers unions and districts should have the option of removing that obstacle, the report says.

The report recommends revitalizing BTSA and improving teacher evaluations while providing support and performance reviews to temporary teachers. Under the new funding system, districts must decide how much more to spend on developing new teachers. But “the cost of not doing anything will only impede California’s efforts to improve teacher quality and effectiveness,” Koppich and Humphries state.


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  1. Jonathan 2 years ago2 years ago

    BTSA is the exact same thing I did in my undergrad in Illinois in my classes for my teaching credential/bachelors. In my Capstone senior year, I did almost everything that BTSA requires and then moved here and had to do it all again. Remember California is one of the few states that makes you get a credential after college. Other states require you to do it all in your undergrad program. … Read More

    BTSA is the exact same thing I did in my undergrad in Illinois in my classes for my teaching credential/bachelors. In my Capstone senior year, I did almost everything that BTSA requires and then moved here and had to do it all again. Remember California is one of the few states that makes you get a credential after college. Other states require you to do it all in your undergrad program. BTSA should become obsolete and the vision of it should be put into your student teaching/credential program

  2. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    BTSA wasn’t the only baby thrown out in the categorical bathwater. Other examples of sorely missed programs, just to name a few, include 7-12th grade counseling, school safety and the 10th grade counseling program, all of which, like other categorical programs that were eliminated, are left to the whims of districts to initiate.

  3. Andrew 2 years ago2 years ago

    Beginning teachers have to be at least employed to experience a "bumpy path" in the mentoring they receive. I am surprised that Koppich and Humprhies found enough employed probationary teachers to interview about their experiences, in recent years. The superbly qualified newer California teachers I know were either dumped in layoffs or were never able to obtain teaching jobs and finally obtained employment in fields other than teaching. … Read More

    Beginning teachers have to be at least employed to experience a “bumpy path” in the mentoring they receive. I am surprised that Koppich and Humprhies found enough employed probationary teachers to interview about their experiences, in recent years.

    The superbly qualified newer California teachers I know were either dumped in layoffs or were never able to obtain teaching jobs and finally obtained employment in fields other than teaching. The California economy will improve for a time, though education will remain very underfunded. Then another recession will occur and funding will get even worse and under LIFO today’s newer teachers will become unemployed.

    Does anyone really expect that a cohesive and coordinated mentoring and support system for new teachers will exist in the midst of this sort of abuse and discouragement? And that it will motivate the new teachers to stay in education voluntarily while waiting to be dumped solely because they are younger or newer?

    Replies

    • Floyd Thursby 1941 2 years ago2 years ago

      If you look at the pay structure, it's clearly a pay structure designed to reward union loyalty and longevity, not performance or value add. The highest pay is going to teachers in their '60s and older who need less to live on as their kids are grown. The lowest pay is going to those starting families. There is not a significant improvement from 5 years to 40 years of experience, and pay … Read More

      If you look at the pay structure, it’s clearly a pay structure designed to reward union loyalty and longevity, not performance or value add. The highest pay is going to teachers in their ’60s and older who need less to live on as their kids are grown. The lowest pay is going to those starting families. There is not a significant improvement from 5 years to 40 years of experience, and pay should reflect that. There should also be ways for great young teachers who are leaders in test score results, rarely call in sick and get good reviews on ratemyteacher.com and are well-liked by the principal to reach top pay fast. There should be bonuses for those who never call in sick or take personal days. Also, those who don’t take personal days will see the benefits of that reflected in the test score average improvement statistics, once these are published.

      • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

        How is this comment apropos of teacher credentialing?

  4. Patrick Sayne 2 years ago2 years ago

    As a retired district superintendent I had first hand knowledge of the BTSA program. While it was a well meaning program and, when combined with a skilled mentor, could be very effective, the associated paperwork essentially substituted filling out forms for substantive guidance. In order to effectively assist new teachers more time should be allocated to reflect on lesson quality, learn how to use data to guide instruction and less time allocated to proving via … Read More

    As a retired district superintendent I had first hand knowledge of the BTSA program. While it was a well meaning program and, when combined with a skilled mentor, could be very effective, the associated paperwork essentially substituted filling out forms for substantive guidance. In order to effectively assist new teachers more time should be allocated to reflect on lesson quality, learn how to use data to guide instruction and less time allocated to proving via forms that such activities were occurring. Here’s a novel idea, let the mentor teachers spend more time with the teachers they are mentoring and respect their professionalism by allowing them to simply certify they had done so.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

      I have not done a scientific poll on this but, talking to teachers from up and down the state, I perceive a real "demarkation line" starting about the Monterey area. South of the line teachers complain about the burdensome paperwork required by BTSA. North of the line (and the line is not exact) teachers were much more supportive of the program. The difference seemed to be that programs in the south were much more central … Read More

      I have not done a scientific poll on this but, talking to teachers from up and down the state, I perceive a real “demarkation line” starting about the Monterey area. South of the line teachers complain about the burdensome paperwork required by BTSA. North of the line (and the line is not exact) teachers were much more supportive of the program. The difference seemed to be that programs in the south were much more central office and compliance driven while in the north teacher support providers tended to be more in control and more of a focus was put on the mentoring aspects of BTSA. Not sure why things might have fallen out this way.

      As the state’s “new” roadmap for reform, Greatness by Design, emphasizes, research clearly shows that having close support during the first two years of practice is an absolute requirement. CA’s state number for “early leavers,” teachers leaving the profession before the fifth year in the profession, closely tracked to the national rate of near 50% prior to BTSA. After BTSA was initiated that rate dropped into the 30% range. A researcher for the CSU system once stated that “early leavers” were costing the state close to half a billion dollars a year (not to mention churn and disruption at school sites) so whatever the “costs” of BTSA, it was a dollar saver and helped stabilize the system.

      • el 2 years ago2 years ago

        In the last couple of years I’ve heard a lot of complaints about BTSA being paperwork-driven here in the north as well.

        I suspect it’s also critically important that the mentor teachers be well selected. It seems that much of the unevenness that may occur is due to the quality of the mentor.

        • Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

          I am actually working with the state (CTC) to resolve some of those issues. Difficult with LCFF no longer specifying designated funding. BTSA was doing quite well in the north (most places) until BTSA was "undermined" by flexibility. The operational parts of BTSA tended to disappear while the paperwork load remained. Even as dollars declined the compliance requirements remained intact. The issues of release time and training for mentors was and is, obviously, a … Read More

          I am actually working with the state (CTC) to resolve some of those issues. Difficult with LCFF no longer specifying designated funding. BTSA was doing quite well in the north (most places) until BTSA was “undermined” by flexibility. The operational parts of BTSA tended to disappear while the paperwork load remained. Even as dollars declined the compliance requirements remained intact. The issues of release time and training for mentors was and is, obviously, a cost issue. Of course “flexibility” was ultimately required by CA’s chronic underfunding of schools exacerbated by recession driven cuts. We can thank the now traditional ant-tax mood of the CA electorate mixed with the toxic machinations of the market driven financial sector for this public cauldron of toil and trouble. I see B of A is being fined $17 billion for its part in the economic meltdown. Doesn’t seem like enough. Public floggings come to mind, but I suppose Constitutional purists might object.

  5. Mike McMahon 2 years ago2 years ago

    Dedicated BTSA funds are no longer available due to the adoption of the Local Control Funding Formula. In addition, districts that participated in multi-district cost sharing agreements have lost all of their funding to the lead school district which served as the funding agent.

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