State Teacher Policies Suck!

Friday, January 29, 2010
I'm sure glad that Kate Walsh and company weren't my professors in college. Damn! They are tough graders! With the exception of eight southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas) that received a 'C' and three northern states (Maine, Montana, Vermont) that received a 'F', every U.S. state received some version of a 'D' in the latest edition of the National Council on Teacher Quality's State Teacher Policy Yearbook. In grading the states, the authors look at five broad teacher quality areas (and numerous metrics within them): teacher preparation, expanding the pool of teachers, identifying effective teachers, retaining effective teachers, and exiting ineffective teachers.

While it is easy to poke holes at some of the National Council on Teacher Quality's seemingly ideologically-driven work (such as, I believe, its excessive focus on teacher pensions), much of its state policy analysis has a strong foothold in research and is one of the most comprehensive and regular analyses of state teacher policies. Like it or not, there is an increasing alignment between the NCTQ's scorecard and that employed by the U.S. Department of Education in the Race to the Top competition. The entire report should not be dismissed because of who they are (or are perceived to be). States should feel challenged by some of the analysis within the Yearbook and should consider looking to the "best practice" states identified under some of the metrics.

Here's a brief summary of the report's findings:
  • State teacher policies are "broken, outdated and inflexible."
  • Evaluation and tenure policies take too little or no account of classroom effectiveness. 47 states "allow tenure to be awarded virtually automatically."
  • States are "complicit" on keeping ineffective teachers in classrooms. Only 1 state separates dismissal policy for poor performance from criminal and moral violations.
  • Few states provide robust enough alternate routes into teaching.
  • States' requirements for elementary teacher, middle-school teacher and special education teacher preparation are inadequate.
  • There is too little accountability for teacher preparation in state policy. Only 5 states set minimum standards for teacher preparation program performance.
  • States "cling to outmoded compensation structures," including the single salary schedule.
My primary quibble with the report is that it appears to completely and utterly discount the role of induction, mentoring and professional development in strengthening teacher effectiveness. Even if we prepare teachers better, recruit non-traditional candidates into the profession, retain them longer, compensate them differently, make evaluations more regular and meaningful, and find appropriate ways to terminate the small fraction of truly incompetent ones, it still will not be enough to maximize teacher effectiveness. There will continue to be a need for high-quality, individualized support upon entry into the profession and regular opportunities for data-driven, instructionally-focused professional development through a teacher's career. Professional development is not featured as a metric in the report at all and induction only enters as a criteria with regard to teacher retention, rather than teacher effectiveness -- which is where its most important power truly lies. That said, the evaluative criteria the report lays out about induction policy (on page 183-184 of the printed report) are worth noting and includes elements that states must attend to: mentoring of sufficient frequency and duration, mentoring provided at the start of the school year, and attentive mentor selection and high-quality training.

I won't beat this horse any further today, but check out these past posts for greater substance on what I'm getting at here with regard to the inadequate focus on the developmental needs of new and veteran teachers:

Race To The Top: Under The Hood
RttT: Redefining Teacher Effectiveness
Measurement Is Not Destiny

In other news, experts are doubting the likelihood of a 2010 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, so these state teacher policies with an added dose of Race to the Top reforms is likely to be where it's at over the next year plus.