Renewed call to create statewide teacher database

February 29, 2016

Revisiting a decade-old contentious issue, the Legislative Analyst’s Office is urging the Legislature to create a teacher database that would help lawmakers address a projected teacher shortage.

A new data system would provide critical information that the state has lacked, which has forced lawmakers to “fly blind” when trying to evaluate how to spend money on recruiting and retaining teachers, said Brad Strong, senior director of education policy for the nonprofit Children Now and a longtime advocate of education data.

The Legislature passed the framework for the teacher database, known as the California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System, or CALTIDES, in 2006 as a companion to the better-known statewide database that collects information on students, CALPADS (California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System).

CALTIDES was to follow CALPADS, which began operating in 2009. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suspended federal money for it in 2010, partly in displeasure over technical glitches that delayed getting CALPADS off the ground. Then, in June 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed $2.1 million that the Legislature included for CALTIDES in the state budget, an action that forced the state to give back the full $6 million federal grant it had received for the new database.

Brown’s explanation was terse. He said the veto would “avoid the development of a costly technology program that is not critical.” It was consistent with his view that data should be collected locally, not in Sacramento. He has opposed efforts to expand data for CALPADS beyond the minimal information that the federal government requires.

But in a budget analysis this month that includes a section on teacher staffing issues, the LAO recommends taking another look at CALTIDES. “Given the potential benefits to California of having such a system, we encourage the Legislature to consider re-establishing it,” the report said (see page 70).

Currently, data on California teachers is split between the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which compiles information on preparation and credentialing programs, and the Californian Department of Education, which collects employment data. The problem is that there is no connection between the two information systems, said Linda Darling-Hammond, an emeritus professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education who also chairs the credentialing commission. Darling-Hammond, who favors establishing CALTIDES, said the state cannot determine how many teachers with teaching credentials from California subsequently take jobs in California schools, “or are poached by Nevada” and other states, or how many beginning teachers leave the profession.

As a result, the state relies on periodic national and federal studies for teacher data. Those studies have “notable shortcomings,” the LAO said. The state currently has no ability to track teacher turnover and transfers to other districts, and whether teachers have been assigned to subjects they’re credentialed to teach. Because the state “is not strategic” in collecting and sharing data among agencies, the LAO cited some examples of what it doesn’t know:

The state can’t evaluate which teacher credentialing programs have produced the most effective teachers and which districts’ versions of BTSA, the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, are performing well. Without CALTIDES, it would not be able to determine which teacher incentive and loan programs, which the Legislature could pass this year, would be a wise investment.

According to the Data Quality Campaign, a national group that advocates for statewide data systems, 44 of 46 states with a student database had at least some elements of a CALTIDES-like database for teachers in 2014.

CALTIDES would create a unique non-personally-identifiable number for each teacher (no Social Security number, name, address or email). The bill creating CALTIDES in 2006 specifically prohibited using either CALPADS or CALTIDES to track the pay, promotion or performance for the purpose of evaluating any individual teacher or groups of teachers. But the Legislature removed that prohibition in a bill in 2009, when the Legislature was considering how to make California competitive for a federal Race to the Top grant. The state subsequently didn’t get the grant, and federal grant evaluators cited weaknesses in the state’s data systems.

The newly passed federal Every Student Succeeds Act prohibits the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring states to use student test data in evaluating teachers. But the state’s teachers unions would likely demand re-imposing restrictions on linking information on CALPADS and CALTIDES if it were built.

“There are legitimate competing interests, but you could strike a balance,” said former state senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who negotiated the details of the first and subsequent CALTIDES bill. “It was done before and could be done again.”

For now, though, there is no bill to fund CALTIDES, although Darling-Hammond said there have been “quiet discussions” between the credentialing commission and the state Department of Education on what it would take to link the separate databases.

“We will never have enough money to do all that we want to do in education,” said Simitian, who is now a Santa Clara County supervisor, “so it is essential to use what funds we have to the best possible effect – and have the data to understand what works and what doesn’t.”

This is the first of two articles on the Legislative Analyst Office’s recommendations on California’s teacher shortage. Tomorrow: Is a comprehensive state strategy or a “narrowly tailored” approach needed to tackle the teacher shortage? 

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