With about one-third of all new teachers in the United States leaving the profession within five years, California can stem this loss and improve teacher quality by extending time to train new teachers and providing more opportunities for career growth, a report released last week by Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) concluded.
“Money alone will not transform teaching,” according to ACT. “Higher compensation should be logically tied to new professional roles and greater responsibilities as teachers progress along a career pathway.” ACT was formed in 2008 by a group of highly respected teachers who wanted to use their knowledge to influence public policy. The research was conducted in collaboration with the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE).
The report, Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways, recommends creating a “third tier” that teachers could aspire to – becoming “master teachers” who, for example, could help train and evaluate new or struggling teachers, or redesign curricula to be more relevant for the district or school, while still remaining in the classroom for part of the day. The report defines Tier I teachers as new teachers on probation; Tier II teachers have permanent status and a full credential.
Master or Tier III teachers could take over some of the managerial tasks now done by district personnel, outside consultants, and professional development groups, the report explains. Districts and schools would develop “greater capacity to promote teacher learning with teachers leading the work.”
David Cohen, a 10th grade English teacher in Palo Alto and associate director of ACT, said he pictures including “master teacher” or “Tier III” certification on a teacher’s license, with teachers earning that status receiving more pay. The state, he said, would need to provide a framework and establish a baseline set of requirements for teachers to meet the master teacher criteria. But then, he said, districts would decide, within that framework, what teachers must do to become master teachers in the local district.
“It’s really tricky to find the balance between what the state can do to be helpful and uniform enough so it is institutionalized in a good way and yet flexible enough for tiny districts and gigantic districts to find it useful,” Cohen said.
Lengthening probation beyond two years
The report also recommends potentially extending the probationary period for teachers to up to four years instead of the two years currently required under state law. Under the approach envisioned in the report, first-year teachers would be seen as apprentices under the direction of a master teacher for part of the day. New teachers would spend the rest of the day working on developing lessons, analyzing student work, observing master teachers’ classrooms, and deepening their knowledge of their subject. They would take charge of their classrooms beginning in their second year. Although teachers could progress to Tier II by the end of their second year, it would typically take them three to four years, according to the ACT approach.
California is one of a half-dozen states with a probationary period of two years or less before granting tenure of due-process rights; in most states it is three years or longer, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. But, Cohen said, in practice many teachers are hired first as “temporary teachers” with a one-year contract before they are put in a tenure-track position.
“A better induction experience is almost like a protection for new teachers,” he said. “Right now the job description for a brand-new teacher on Day 1 is the same as that of a veteran teacher. And sometimes the new teacher is given the most challenging assignments.” The process ACT is suggesting isn’t more difficult for a new teacher; it’s just a longer process.
The ACT report also emphasizes the need to attract high-quality teachers to low-performing schools by not only offering higher pay, but also release time and additional stipends earmarked for ongoing professional development relevant to the needs of the students they teach.
“While it may be tempting to suppose that paying teachers more to work in high-needs schools might attract accomplished teachers, the reality is that teachers want to be successful as much as they want to be compensated for taking on large challenges,” according to the report.
Cohen said the report takes the long view. “We’re not expecting these changes to happen in the next legislative session,” he said. “But the bottom line is there is a lot of talent in the system, and it’s not used in an optimal way.”
However, the report got legs even before it was published. The California Department of Education’s Educator Excellence Task Force included recommendations and resources drawn from the draft ACT report in its report on how to attract and retain quality teachers, Greatness by Design, released this summer.
This is ACT’s second report. The first report, published two years ago, is on teacher evaluation, A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: An Evaluation System that Works for California. The two reports go hand in hand, Cohen said.