There is growing recognition that expert teachers and school leaders are perhaps the most important resource for improving student learning, and the highest-achieving nations make substantial investments in them. A McKinsey study of 25 of the world's school systems, including 10 of the top performers, found that investments in teachers and teaching are central to improving student outcomes. They found that the top school systems emphasize (1) getting the right people to become teachers; (2) developing them into effective instructors; and (3) ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.9
These systems offer high-quality preparation to a highly selected cadre of entrants, completely free to candidates with a salary while they train; equitable salaries and teaching conditions; universal access to high-quality mentoring and professional development; 15 to 25 hours a week of collaborative planning and learning time embedded in the teaching schedule; and opportunities to take on professional leadership roles throughout their careers.
U.S. federal investments in teacher quality are, by contrast, quite paltry — having declined substantially since the 1970s — and state investments are highly unequal. These problems and inequities are prominent in California. As a result:
- Teacher education is uneven in duration and quality, with high quality programs offset by some that offer inadequate training. And most teachers receive little financial support to prepare for an occupation that will pay them a below-market wage.
- U.S. teachers have little time for professional collaboration or learning — usually only about 3 to 5 hours per week of individual planning time. Furthermore, professional development opportunities are few, rather than the sustained practice teachers experience elsewhere.
- Despite the important resource of the state's Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Program, fewer than half of CA teachers receive intensive mentoring or coaching from an expert teacher in
- their subject area during their first year on the job.10
- A steep decline in new teacher production (more than 36 percent over the course of the decade) is due, in part, to budget cuts which have forced the state's university systems to cap enrollment and turn qualified applicants away.11
- Meanwhile, shortages still exist in fields like mathematics, physical science, bilingual/ESL education, and in many high-poverty schools, and projected increases in student enrollment and teacher retirements will increase demand in the years ahead.
- Teacher turnover contributes to shortages and causes discontinuity that interferes with school improvement efforts. Turnover is also wasteful, costing California an estimated $700 million a year in replacement costs for teachers who leave before retirement.12 Much of this turnover is caused by poor, but correctable, teaching conditions.13
This lack of investment is particularly problematic given the expectations of much higher levels of learning for today's students. Teachers now need not only deep and flexible knowledge of the content areas they teach. They also need to know how children learn, the different ways in which they learn, how to adapt instruction for the needs of ELs and students with special needs, how to assess learning continuously, and how to work collectively with parents and colleagues to build strong school programs.
These concerns about teachers' access to knowledge are replicated for school leaders. A recent study of California principals14 found that school leaders in this state are deeply committed, but much less likely to have had a supervised internship as part of their preparation or to have access to mentoring or coaching in their work than principals in other states. They are less likely to have access to a principal's network, or to participate regularly with teachers in professional development — a practice associated with strong instructional leadership .They reported that their professional development experiences were less useful to improving their practice than principals did nationally.
The critical need for investments in teacher and principal learning has been made clear over and over again in school reform efforts. Those who have worked to improve schools have found that every aspect of school reform — the creation of more challenging curriculum, the use of more thoughtful assessments, the invention of new model schools and programs — depends on skilled educators who are well-supported in healthy school organizations. In the final analysis, there are no policies that can improve schools if the people in them are not armed with the knowledge and skills they need.
Educator Quality Key Recommendations
The Transition Team's recommendations aim to create a future in which California has a stable, uniformly high-quality teaching and leadership workforce from preschool through high school.In this system, teachers and leaders are well-prepared, well-supported, and work in collaborative environments .Schools, districts and higher education institutions collaborate to provide high-quality, comprehensive teacher and leader preparation programs. Teachers and leaders are evaluated based on meaningful professional standards integrated with evidence of student learning. Teacher and leader evaluations are used to inform professional development. And a high-quality, widely available professional development infrastructure exists in California to support educators across their careers. To accomplish this, CDE should work with the State Board of Education and the California Commission for Teacher Credentialing to:
- Use professional standards and educator performance assessments to leverage improvements in teacher and leader preparation. California is already a leader in pioneering statewide performance assessments for beginning teacher licensing. Ensuring that these assessments are strengthened, well-implemented, and used for program approval decisions — and expanding this innovation to licensing for school leaders — could dramatically strengthen educator preparation in the state.
- Strengthen and integrate BTSA and Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) programs to ensure stronger mentoring and assistance for beginning teachers and for veteran teachers who are struggling.
- Encourage the development of more effective educator evaluation systems based on professional teacher and leader standards that guide and assess practice in a way that reflects best practices and incorporates appropriate evidence of student learning. Make sure these systems are supported by training for evaluators, mentoring for teachers, and professional development programs.
- Create a major Commission on Educator Excellence to determine how these teacher quality systems should best be designed, supported, and implemented.
- Launch an ongoing initiative to support union-management collaboration toward high-leverage reforms in school organization, management, and instructional innovation as well as teacher, classified staff, and administrator development, support, and evaluation.
- Re-create a professional development infrastructure for the state, including renewal of California's Subject Matter Projects, the School Leadership Academy, and other high-quality professional learning opportunities for teachers, classified staff, and leaders.
- Equalize the distribution of well-qualified and effective teachers by leveraging more equitable salaries and working conditions, using service scholarships and National Board stipends to recruit excellent teachers to high-need schools, and — because leaders are the single most important element in retaining teachers — developing strong leaders for all schools.
- Support a statewide learning system by documenting and disseminating best practices in teacher and leader development to teachers, schools, and districts.
10. Bland, J., Tiffany-Morales, J., Shields, P., Woodworth, K., Campbell, A., Sherer, D., & Rodezno, S. (2010). California's Teaching Force 2010: Key issues and trends. Santa Cruz, CA: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.