Gov. Brown targets teacher preparation

January 9, 2015

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Taking on an issue that has received relatively short shrift in the raft of reforms being implemented in California schools, Gov. Jerry Brown ventured for the first time during his governorship into the challenge of preparing – and retaining – teachers.

While the $10 million he is proposing is tiny in the context of the state’s overall budget, the reforms he is calling for have far-reaching implications.

“It is significant,” said Linda-Darling Hammond, a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education and chairwoman of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She said the measures Brown has proposed represent a first step, and that she expects the state to take more steps to “build a high-quality workforce of teachers and school leaders.”

The budget calls for improving the way the state accredits teacher preparation programs. “State oversight of the educator preparation system is currently not robust enough to verify that programs are meeting preparation standards and producing fully prepared teachers,” the budget summary states.

Among the reforms it calls for are:

As the budget summary notes, “there is no assessment to determine if a person is prepared to be a school principal.”

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said the budget proposals “signal a more aggressive role for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.” They also send a message that “we are concerned about the quality of new teachers,” he said.

The budget proposal also addresses another major challenge in strengthening the teacher pipeline in California –providing support for teachers in their first few years on the job. Teachers have been required to participate in what is called an “induction program” – primarily the state’s Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program – in order to receive their full or “clear” credential. Support programs make it more likely that teachers stay in the profession, rather than dropping out in large numbers.

But there have been multiple problems with the funding and implementation of the BTSA program, as noted in an EdSource report released last fall. Brown is calling for an evaluation of “the burden of the current requirements” on teachers to complete induction programs like BTSA, the budget summary says. He also wants to encourage local districts to provide the supports that new teachers need to succeed, including providing mentor teachers.

The budget summary says the Brown administration won’t wait until the fiscal year begins in July to begin working on this issue, but will begin “engaging with stakeholders” on this issue in the coming weeks.

Darling-Hammond said that in some districts induction programs aren’t even offered, or teachers have to pay thousands of dollars to enroll in them. In other cases, districts may offer “help groups,” but no mentors or actual coaching in the classroom.

The reforms aimed at improving teacher preparation – and to support teachers after they begin teaching – indirectly addresses the issues raised by the Vergara vs. California lawsuit, including the time and expense of firing incompetent teachers.

In his press conference Friday, Brown described the challenge of firing such teachers as “a nightmare.” If his proposed reforms result in significant changes in teacher preparation and support, that could improve the effectiveness of teachers across the board and reduce the number of ineffective ones.

What the budget summary does not address is the challenge of recruiting new teachers. The number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs has plummeted over the past decade – from more than 77,000 in 2001-012 to less than 20,000 in 2012-13.

Darling-Hammond said the decline was in part a response to the massive layoffs inflicted on teachers as a result of the state budget crisis precipitated by the financial collapse of 2008. She said districts now have a “pent up demand” to hire teachers back as they reduce class sizes and respond to rising enrollments in some areas.

“I am quite sure there will be a lot of attention to this in the next few years, to make sure we can underwrite people coming into the profession,” she said.

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