Federal government backs state’s plan to improve teacher quality

October 22, 2015

Teacher Estela Guzman, center, points to math problems as teachers My Lu and Tricia Cummings look on during a professional development session in Santa Ana Unified School District on June 25, 2015.

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California officials will work to improve preparation, assessments and support for teachers under a plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education to make sure all students have access to qualified educators.

On Thursday, the department approved plans submitted by the District of Columbia and 17 states, including California, as part of its Excellent Educators for All Initiative. Last month, the department approved plans for 16 other states.

In July 2014, the department launched the initiative by asking states to create plans to ensure students – particularly low-income and minority students have effective teachers. Department research shows that schools with large numbers of low-income and minority students tend to employ more teachers who are less experienced or are not fully credentialed. Nationally, black and American Indian students are four times as likely as white students to be in a school with more than 20 percent first-year teachers, while Latino students are three times as likely to be in such schools, according to the department.

“All students should have access to excellent teachers. That’s a matter of simple fairness,” said Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement. “This plan details California’s efforts to make sure students from low-income families and students of color have the same access to experienced and qualified teachers as other students. I’m pleased the federal government has approved the plan.”

“All students should have access to excellent teachers. That’s a matter of simple fairness,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

California’s proposal, submitted in July, details the credential status of teachers in schools with large numbers of low-income and minority students. In 2013, 98 percent of the state’s 288,239 teachers had full credentials.

Although most teachers are fully credentialed, less experienced teachers are slightly more concentrated in schools with large populations of low-income and minority students, according to the state’s research.

In schools with large low-income student populations, about 10.6 percent of teachers had less than two years of teaching experience, compared to about 8.2 percent in schools with few low-income students. The state’s plan refers to the difference between the two as an “equity gap” – in this case 2.4 percent – that it will attempt to reduce.

The numbers were similar in schools with large minority student populations. About 10.2 percent of teachers had less than two years of experience in those schools, compared to about 8.6 percent in schools with fewer minority students. The gap is 1.6 percent.

Educators discussed the “relatively small size of the equity gaps” during meetings about the issue in June. Still, the plan must address how to narrow those gaps.

The plan outlines efforts to address equity gaps through the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF, which directs funds to low-income, English learner and other student groups.

The plan includes the state’s intent to: change its teacher assessments to show that teachers are prepared to instruct the Common Core standards, gather information about the quality of teacher-preparation programs, make sure teachers know about students’ cultures and improve programs to help new teachers.

States must track and publicly report progress on their plans. California’s plan sets an annual timeline for its goals through 2016-17.

“All parents understand that strong teaching is fundamental to strong opportunities for their children,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, in a statement. “We as a country should treat that opportunity as a right that every family has – regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin, zip code, wealth, or first language.”

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