Teachers in California
Envisioning New Directions in Teacher Evaluation
This report reviews teacher evaluation methods and explores the role of state policy in teacher evaluation reform.Download report
Teachers’ willingness, ability, and opportunity to grow and adopt better practices in the classroom are at the heart of any school system’s capacity to improve itself. Effective instructional strategies and methods can foster student learning, and effective teachers are skilled at creating, using, and evaluating teaching practices. Quality teaching requires the right preparation, professional development, and working conditions.
The question of teacher quality is also central to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (), which requires that all teachers in core academic areas—English, math, science, social sciences, arts, and foreign languages—be “highly qualified.” Under NCLB, “highly qualified” means holding a bachelor’s degree and either having a credential in the subject taught or being enrolled in an alternative credentialing program—such as an internship—for up to three years.
The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in Santa Cruz, Calif., notes that recent discussion of teacher quality from a policy perspective has emphasized such issues as credentialing and subject-matter expertise, attention to effective practices, and the use of student outcomes to facilitate teacher evaluation, professional growth, and compensation.
Teaching Standards and Credentials
Teacher preparation and credentialing, long a state interest, became a more important policy focus as a result of California’s standards-based reforms in the mid-1990s. In 1997, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), the California Department of Education (CDE), and several other groups agreed on guiding principles for addressing teacher quality issues. The resulting California Standards for the Teaching Profession (), in addition to standards created by other state and national groups, have been the basis for developing new standards for teacher preparation programs and assessments of new teachers.
In 1998, the Legislature also passed Senate Bill 2042, which directed the CTC to overhaul the state’s subject-matter preparation for elementary teachers, professional teacher preparation programs, and teacher induction programs so they were aligned with the CSTP. Phased in over time, the legislation also instructed the CTC to develop a Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA) that requires new teachers to demonstrate their competence in teaching to the state’s academic content standards. As of July 2008, all state-approved teacher preparation programs must include a TPA component that candidates for the multiple or single subject credential (see link below) must pass.
To receive a preliminary teaching credential, which is valid for five years, candidates must earn at least a bachelor’s degree, pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) (or another approved basic skills test), demonstrate subject-matter knowledge in the subject or subjects they plan to teach, and participate in a state-approved, teacher preparation program.
Novice teachers then have five years to earn a “clear” teaching credential, which requires them to complete a beginning teacher induction program. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification can also be used to obtain a clear credential. Clear credentials must be renewed every five years.
The Recruitment, Retention, and Induction of New Teachers
Recruiting and retaining a quality teaching workforce is no small challenge. Pressure has mounted for state governments to increase teacher supply in the face of teacher retirements, particularly in high-demand subject areas and specialties. The gap between the supply and demand for qualified teachers often differs by geographic area, school level, subject area, and the community served.
Shortages of qualified teachers do not affect schools uniformly. The schools most in need of qualified teachers often have the greatest difficulty recruiting and retaining them. Low-performing and urban schools, which serve predominantly poor, Latino, and African American students, have disproportionate numbers of underqualified teachers in their classrooms. Shortages are also more pronounced in certain areas of specialization, such as Special Education, mathematics, and science.
Researchers and educators agree that high-quality induction can make a difference in retaining new teachers. Teaching is a challenging job, and many new teachers quickly leave the profession. Induction programs help new teachers gain competence and confidence in their profession during the first years in the classroom.
California’s Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Program, established in 1992 as a permanent program by Senate Bill 1422, is intended to help beginning teachers bridge the gap between their teacher preparation programs and success in the classroom. Lawmakers hoped that cost-effective induction programs would help “transform academic preparation into practical success in the classroom,” and “retain greater numbers of capable beginning teachers.” Each BTSA program offers ongoing support from experienced colleagues at the school and includes formative assessments—such as classroom observations, journals, and portfolios—that help program participants learn how to improve their own teaching. Based on a favorable evaluation of BTSA in 1997, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2042 to expand the program so more new teachers could participate.
Because teacher supply is limited, the federal government, states, districts, and schools are also crafting new approaches to teacher recruitment and retention that address matters such as compensation, working conditions, and opportunities for growth, leadership roles, and advancement. California policymakers have periodically offered financial incentives to new teachers in high-need schools or subject areas, including tuition and fee assistance programs, loan forgiveness, and paid internships. One example is the Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE), which was established by legislators in 1995 and is run by the California Student Aid Commission. Other strategies include the appropriation of state funds for California’s public four-year university systems—the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU)—to significantly expand their preparation of math and science teachers. The universities are to do this in part by encouraging students earning bachelor’s degrees in math, science, or engineering to consider teaching as a career. Community colleges also agreed to align their coursework with CSU’s teacher preparation programs.
Districts that are unable to recruit suitable credentialed staff may issue special permits to teachers who are not yet fully credentialed:
- The Short-Term Staff Permit (STSP) fills acute staffing needs. The holder must have earned a bachelor’s degree, passed a basic skills test, and acquired a specified level of subject-matter knowledge. Issued only once, the permit is good for up to one year.
- The Provisional Internship Permit (PIP) has the same prerequisites as the STSP, but employers must verify that they have conducted a diligent search for a credentialed teacher or intern and must help the PIP holder enter an internship program. The PIP may be renewed once if the holder has taken all appropriate subject-matter exams and not passed.
- A Credential Waiver is for individuals who have not demonstrated subject-matter competency and waives one or more requirements for a full teaching credential. Holders must demonstrate progress toward a full credential. Valid for one year, the waiver is renewable on a case-by-case basis for up to two more times.
Internships, pre-internships, and CalStateTEACH programs allow individuals—including professionals changing careers—to hold paid teaching positions while completing credentialing requirements. University- and district-based programs must offer an Early Completion Option, which allows participants to demonstrate pedagogical skills through examination.
Paraprofessionals whose positions are supported by federal Title I funds must have either completed two years of college or passed a district test unless they act primarily as translators.
Teachers use continuing education and professional development to improve their knowledge and skills, keep up with changes in the field, maintain their licenses, and qualify for increased pay. Teachers participate in professional development activities during and after school, on weekends and school breaks, and over the summer.
Although regulations regarding professional development vary by state, accomplished teachers throughout the nation can apply for a special certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). To become National Board–certified, candidates must complete a rigorous program of peer review and self-examination. Teachers used to receive $20,000 from the state for becoming National Board certified and agreeing to teach in low-performing schools for at least four years, but the state stopped providing new awards in April 2009.
Ongoing teacher development is widely acknowledged as important in building the capacity of schools to engage in continuous improvement. Traditionally, professional development was largely a local interest. Increasingly, however, California policymakers are influencing the direction of professional development efforts to ensure that they are aligned with the state’s academic standards for students and, more recently, that they also are accessible to teachers in low-performing schools. In 1998, for instance, the Legislature refined the focus of the California Subject Matter Projects (CSMP)—which provide teachers with professional development in the subject-matter content and teaching of particular disciplines—to reflect California’s standards and the state’s priority to improve low-performing schools.
State policy has affected how California districts provide professional development for teachers. For many years, districts had been able to take up to eight days from the 180-day instructional year for locally determined, mandatory professional development. But beginning in 1998–99, California lawmakers required that students receive 180 days of instruction per year and provided support for only three days of district-run, voluntary professional development beyond the academic year. The state’s decision created a dramatic change in both the quantity of professional development local districts could offer and in districts’ ability to require teacher participation.
Compensation and Evaluation
Teacher compensation models vary from state to state. In many states, teachers’ salaries are based largely on how many years they have taught and the number of credits from additional coursework they have completed. Increasingly, however, districts and states are considering alternative models. Some are exploring “merit pay,” in which teachers’ compensation is based on student performance and/or on some other measure of effectiveness, such as evaluations by other teachers.
However, nontraditional teacher compensation models, such as merit pay, have raised conflicts. Proponents of merit pay say that it more closely approximates the compensation models of other professions, rewarding demonstrated productivity toward organizational goals. They assert that it rewards skill and hard work and weeds out individuals who are unwilling to expend the necessary effort to be good teachers. On the other hand, opponents say that merit pay can promote competitiveness among teachers, who by virtue of their roles must often work as a team. They argue that it can weaken the collaborative culture vital to good schools and unfairly punish good teachers who work with ill-prepared students.
Like compensation, the processes and uses of teacher evaluation differ by state. In states and districts that engage in collective bargaining, often the bargaining agents and districts negotiate, as part of the contract, how and for what reasons teachers can be evaluated.
In most California school districts, school principals have the primary responsibility for evaluating teachers at their schools. In an effort to improve teacher quality, the governor and Legislature established the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Program in 1999. Teachers become part of the program by volunteering or by being referred as the result of a performance review or based on criteria established in thecontract between the district and the teachers’ union. Each participating district has a PAR panel that selects consulting teachers to perform classroom observations, give colleagues feedback, and help them develop the skills necessary to improve their instruction.
In California, the school district is generally the teacher’s official employer; and all teachers, along with most other school employees, have a right to union representation. Collective bargaining occurs at least once every three years and covers a variety of topics including salaries, benefits, working conditions, class size, job assignment, evaluation, and grievance procedures. The Educational Employment Relations Act of 1975 (Senate Bill 160) initially spelled out the process for establishing collective bargaining.
The major unions that represent California’s school employees include:
- California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s largest representative of education employees and an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA).
- California Federation of Teachers (CFT), affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
- California School Employees Association (CSEA), which represents classified employees, such as clerical workers.
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represent maintenance and other noncertificated employees.