Improving Teacher and Leader Effectiveness
Effective teachers have an enormous impact on the lives of their students. Great teachers can help students who are behind academically catch up to grade-level expectations. By accelerating student performance, they can help close the opportunity and achievement gaps that cut short the college and career dreams of so many low-income students and students of color.
But sadly, research, including our own, demonstrates that low-income students and students of color are disproportionately taught by the least effective teachers. Meanwhile, despite the best intentions of many district leaders and educators, a host of state and district policies and decisions exacerbate existing inequities.
There are opportunities to do things differently. We recommend a number of state policy changes that can expand access to effective teaching and help all teachers improve.
State leaders should take the following steps:
1. OVERHAUL THE TEACHER AND PRINCIPAL EVALUATION PROCESS.
Invest in evaluation systems that can help identify both effective and ineffective teachers, and use these evaluations as part of a broader system of teacher feedback, development, and support. These evaluations should be conducted annually by trained evaluators and should include multiple measures, with student achievement playing a prominent role. The evaluations should result in multiple rating categories (such as highly effective, effective, satisfactory, and ineffective), and districts should use these results when making decisions about tenure, compensation, professional development, promotion, assignment, layoff, and dismissal. As districts build their teacher evaluation systems, they also should develop and implement a system for evaluating principals. Principal evaluations should be based primarily on student outcomes, while also considering how the principal has shown leadership to drive better results at the school site.
2. PROVIDE THE OVERSIGHT NECESSARY TO ENSURE THAT LOW-INCOME STUDENTS AND STUDENTS OF COLOR ARE NOT DISPROPORTIONATELY TAUGHT BY INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS.
Current federal laws require that adequately prepared and certified teachers are equitably distributed among schools. In keeping with this law, California should continue to ensure that its highest need students have access to “Highly Qualified Teachers” who are appropriately prepared for the job. At the same time, it should develop teacher-quality measures that go beyond preparation and look at effectiveness on the job, with a focus on student achievement. With these measures, the state should set annual targets for equitable teacher assignment within and across districts and hold districts accountable for meeting these targets.
3. GIVE STRUGGLING TEACHERS SUFFICIENT OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE; IF THEY CAN’T, PROMPTLY REVOKE TENURE.
Too often, ineffective teachers are allowed to linger in California’s classrooms because of our state’s lengthy, expensive, and cumbersome dismissal process. When teachers are identified as low performing, they should enter into a comprehensive remediation plan to improve instruction and performance. Teachers receiving an overall unsatisfactory rating should have one year to significantly improve their performance, with remediation provided, or return to probationary status.
4. REFORM STATE LAWS GOVERNING “LAST IN, FIRST OUT” LAYOFFS.
California is just one of 11 states that require school districts to use seniority as a primary criterion when making decisions on teacher layoffs. It is time for California to repeal this outdated, bureaucratic, and harmful state mandate, replacing it with a broader law that ensures use of more relevant factors, including employee performance, when deciding on reductions in force.
5. EXPAND THE STATE’S TEACHER AND STUDENT LONGITUDINAL DATA SYSTEMS TO HELP IDENTIFY, RECRUIT, RETAIN, AND PROMOTE EFFECTIVE TEACHERS.
To provide district leaders with better information on trends in teacher effectiveness and data on how individual teachers contribute to student learning, the state should build its capacity to link teachers to the students they educate. Specifically, the state should continue to develop its longitudinal and student data systems so as to identify “teachers of record.” By having data on such factors as how teachers are contributing to student achievement, where they are teaching, where they received their teacher preparation, and how they are progressing on the job, the state can better evaluate and support teacher preparation programs, identify promising practices in teacher professional development, and monitor the equitable distribution of effective educators.
Click here for The Education Trust-West's detailed policy recommendations regarding teacher evaluation.