Districts urged to step up for next generation of teachers

July 30, 2015

A report out this week urges California school districts to take a more assertive role in producing new teachers. A new half-billion-dollar appropriation to districts to improve teacher effectiveness presents the opening to do this, although more state encouragement and incentives would help, the study said.

“Districts must take increasing responsibility for recruiting and developing their own future teachers, rather than leave it up to teacher preparation programs to provide the teachers they need,” concluded “Rethinking Teacher Preparation,” by the Washington-based education consulting and research nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners.

Bellwether isn’t the first to criticize the state’s “fragmented” approach to teacher preparation. With few exceptions, future teachers get their subject knowledge as college undergraduates and their initial teacher credential in a one-year graduate school program crammed with theory and, in many cases, a minimum of classroom practice. Districts run training and induction programs like Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment, or BTSA, for inexperienced teachers after they’re on the job.

“Many districts see teacher preparation as someone else’s responsibility, and fail to recognize the crucial role they can play in cultivating teacher supply,” the Bellwether Education Partners report said.

The state doesn’t collect follow-up data on new teacher performance to measure how well graduate schools prepare teachers; in 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the creation of a teacher database that would have compiled this information. “Neither candidates applying to teacher preparation programs, nor school leaders considering hiring their graduates, have reliable information about the quality of different preparation programs or the performance of their graduates in the classroom,” the report said.

Bellwether acknowledged recent efforts by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which oversees teacher preparation programs, to streamline the standards for preparation programs and to focus on measuring how well programs are graduating teachers ready for the classroom. The commission is requiring that all prospective teachers take a performance exam measuring classroom mastery. It is creating a “data dashboard” of program outcomes, including completion and employment rates. And it has loosened regulations on “blended programs” that give undergraduates a head start on teacher training. While the commission “is moving in the right direction, however, it may not go far enough,” the report said.

And these steps will not address predictions of a teacher shortage (see EdSource article), citing evidence of unfilled teaching jobs in some districts, the sharp decline in enrollment in and completion of credentialing programs over the past eight years, and state projections of increased hiring. The state has no strategy to deal with a shortage, the report noted.

“Many districts see teacher preparation as someone else’s responsibility, and fail to recognize the crucial role they can play in cultivating teacher supply,” the report said.

Bellwether cites examples where district initiatives and partnerships can serve as models:

Bellwether recommends that districts strengthen partnerships with credentialing programs through data-sharing agreements, supplying university programs with information on how their graduates did as teachers. The state credentialing commission, in turn, could require data sharing and include more feedback from K-12 districts in re-accrediting credentialing programs. Districts also should be more selective in assigning the best teachers to work with student teachers – a selection process that often is “haphazard,” Bellwether said.

Spending money differently

Districts have the power, under local control, and now the money to take a more innovative, active approach to recruiting and training new teachers, even though there’s no state impetus prompting them to do so, the report said. The Local Control Funding Formula, the new system for funding schools that reasserts local control over spending decisions, does not make teacher quality a priority that districts must address in their yearly spending and goal-setting document, the Local Control and Accountability Plan.

Bellwether recommends that the state and county offices of education “leverage the LCAP process to encourage districts to develop comprehensive talent strategies,” including partnerships with preparation programs, hiring, training, evaluating and retaining teachers. The State Board of Education and perhaps the Legislature would have to amend regulations or the funding formula law to add this degree of oversight – which is unlikely as long as Gov. Jerry Brown, who opposes tinkering with the law, is in office.

Bellwether also encourages districts to use their share of funding from the one-time $500 million teacher effectiveness allocation that the Legislature included in the 2015-16 budget to bolster recruitment and teacher development in new ways – options that the state budget bill permits but doesn’t actively encourage.

The Bellwether report was funded by the California branch of Teach For America, which recruits high-achieving college graduates to teach primarily in low-income urban classrooms for a minimum of two years after only a summer of teacher training. Teach For America teachers are hired with an intern credential, reflecting their learn-on-the-job status. Some districts seek out Teach For America interns, who must earn their standard, preliminary teaching credential within two years, while other districts view intern teachers as an option of last resort.

The report took TFA’s side in the contentious debate, citing that studies that showed that intern and other teachers trained through alternative credentialing programs were just as effective as other first-year teachers. It also warned against equating teachers hired through emergency permits and waivers with intern teachers. “Policies that equate these emergency credentials with the intern credential are unsupported by evidence – and potentially harmful,” the report said.

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