If “Greatness by Design,” the hot-off-the-press report by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Task Force on Educator Excellence is going to have any legs, the state Commission on Teaching Credentialing may provide the first, important steps.
The Commission oversees the preparation and initial on-the-job training of teachers and administrators, and, to a lesser extent, the equitable placement of teachers in the classroom. Many of the dozens of recommendations in the Task Force’s report, released last month (see coverage here), would fall within its purview.
At the Commission’s meeting last week, Executive Director Mary Sandy said the Commission’s work was in sync with many of the recommendations.
“A lot of reform reports come out and some seem at cross purposes with this body, but this report represents a harmonic convergence,” Sandy said. “We are already in process with so much of this work.”
This is not all that surprising. The co-chair of the Task Force, Stanford University Professor of Education Linda Darling-Hammond, is also vice chair of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), and many of the key recommendations in the report reflect policies she has advocated for years. Beverly Young, vice chancellor of California State University and a CTC commissioner, also served on the Task Force, as did four members of the Teacher Preparation Advisory (TAP) Panel, which advises the Commission.
The report’s recommendations will serve to reinforce what the Commission is already considering and could spur action on areas it’s still discussing, Sandy said. These include:
- Revising teacher and administrator preparation standards to include the Common Core standards that the state adopted two years ago. It’s critical that credentialing programs instruct new teachers in the content knowledge and teaching methods needed to teach Common Core. A draft of new standards will go to the Commission in December or January;
- Strengthening teacher preparation in areas of high need: teaching English learners and students with disabilities. The Commission must decide whether a credential for teaching special education students should require a general teaching credential as a prerequisite. That’s not required now, but there’s an argument that special education teachers need a broader content and pedagogical background than the specialized credential requires. At the same time, the Commission will consider streamlining the process for credentialed teachers to get an additional special ed credential – especially useful for giving laid-off teachers an opportunity to return to the classroom;
- Rewriting standards for an administrative credential, perhaps including internship requirements and a new performance assessment that will show what aspiring principals can do in a school setting in the areas of school leadership and mission, collaboration, and instruction, not just what they have learned in courses. California currently doesn’t require a credential to become an administrator – one can test out – and the standards for programs offering credentialing need to be greatly strengthened. The Task Force report made this a priority.
- Creating valid performance assessments that all teachers graduating from credentialing programs must take, and then ultimately using the results of these assessments as a factor in accrediting the teacher credentialing programs. California created the first performance assessments for aspiring teachers, in which they demonstrate planning lessons and actually teaching. But there are three different models that credentialing programs in the state use, with a fourth coming. There must be more uniformity if they are to be used to determine the effectiveness of college and university credentialing programs.
- Eliminating a 40-year requirement that an teacher candidate obtain a credential in one year while encouraging colleges to offer more teacher preparation courses at the undergraduate level. Only the Legislature can lift now outdated requirement that teachers take all courses in one year, though the Commission can make the case for it. Teaching requirements are much more extensive than they were in 1970; teachers can’t fit all of them in a year and do effective internships. At the same time, the Commission could encourage colleges to offer five-year programs tied to completing some requirements as undergraduates.
- Taking a stronger hand in monitoring districts to see that fully credentialed, highly qualified teachers are equitably distributed. The Legislature and Department of Education determine penalties and sanctions, but there may be a more active role for the Commission.
- Reinvigorating mentoring and training programs for new teachers, BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) chief among them. Cuts in state funding and funding flexibility have led this once-model program to languish in many districts.
And BTSA is not alone. As Darling-Hammond noted in summarizing the Task Force report, that California has created model programs, like BTSA, Leadership Academies, and Peer Assistance and Review, a mentoring program for underperforming teachers, only to see them terminated or reduced in tough budget years. This “yo-yo effect, to start, then yank a program, is incredibly wasteful,” Darling-Hammond said. “California innovates well but how do we build a system to ensure that teachers and leaders have skills they want and need, and students have access to these staff?”
The state should reinstate its “pioneering” programs as money becomes available, she said, starting with, she said in an interview, funding unemployed teachers’ second credential in special education and other shortage areas, and restoring incentives for teachers to complete their National Board Certification and then commit to teach in high-needs areas (they received $20,000 spread out over four years under the previous program).
Teacher training and professional development programs have declined during the past five years, as the Legislature allowed districts flexibility to spend money as they choose. Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to continue local flexibility with the distribution of money through a weighted student formula, even as education funding rises substantially.
Darling-Hammond disagrees. She advocates that the state require districts to spend money on professional development while allowing districts to choose which programs “from a basketful of options.” Otherwise, she said, the whole system of training and sustaining teachers and leaders will fall apart. “There must be a coherent professional learning plan in this state.”