Vast reforms proposed for teacher credential programs

June 13, 2013
(photo by cybrarian)

A number of proposals before a state board would strengthen teacher training.

When California placed a one-year limit on the length of teacher preparation programs back in 1970, there were no personal computers, tablets or smart phones; no online classes or Common Core standards; and not nearly as many English learners in public schools. Recognizing that these graduate programs can’t squeeze in an additional 40 years of knowledge and change into a one-year program, a state panel is recommending that the cap be lifted, among a range of other proposed changes intended to modernize and strengthen how teachers are prepared for the classroom.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing will begin considering 40 reforms Thursday proposed by its Teacher Preparation Advisory Panel (TAP), charged with updating the requirements to become a fully credentialed teacher.

“The most pronounced thing that we started looking at on the very first day of meetings was Common Core standards. That really permeated nearly all of the recommendations,” said advisory panel co-chair Page Tompkins, executive director of the REACH Institute for School Leadership. “They represent a shift that is profound in how we teach. What do teachers and school leaders need to know, how do we assess it, and how do we support it over the course of a career?”

TAP has 30 members representing all walks of education, including teachers unions, colleges of education, school districts, and advocacy groups such as the PTA. Only recommendations with broad consensus were included in the group’s final proposal, said co-chair Pia Wong, a professor in the Bilingual Multicultural Education Department at Sacramento State University. But she said 90 percent of the reforms had that strong level of support.

In addition to removing the one-year limit, key recommendations include:

“The overarching vision is to make sure that all teachers are prepared to teach all students,” said TAP member Tara Kini, an attorney with Public Advocates and a former high school social studies and humanities teacher.

Kini said she’s especially pleased with the proposals to set new guidelines for student teaching. A Commission report found a huge disparity in the amount of time different credential programs require for student teaching, ranging from 140 hours to 1,600 hours.

The panel’s recommendations cite research showing that teachers with minimal time in a class being supervised by an expert teacher “are less effective in promoting student learning in their first years of teaching.”

Kini said the same goes for setting a higher bar for getting a clear credential so that candidates have to demonstrate competence in their subjects and in their teaching.

One challenge to this proposal, however, is that state funds for professional development were flexed by Gov. Jerry Brown, meaning school districts can use them for any purpose. Although the Commission doesn’t have control over that, Kini said the panel hopes the recommendation will “send a message to the state to continue to support a stronger induction infrastructure and maintain higher standards.”

Tompkins said the overriding mission of the panel was to develop standards that recognize there will continue to be profound changes in the world. “We want to have standards that describe the range of experiences needed for a teacher to be well-prepared, and are robust enough and flexible enough that they aren’t out of date as those changes start to occur,” Tompkins said.

Before sending the report to the Commission, the panel conducted a public survey of the recommendations.  Of the 650 people who responded, more than two-thirds were teachers, and none of the proposals received less than 70 percent support.

The Commission will be able to take action on its own to implement some of the recommendations it accepts; others will have to go to the Legislature for approval and won’t be in play for at least another year.

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