Kansas Gets a D- on its policies regarding teachers

One of the groups leading the charge for some sensible reforms in how we hire, supervise, fire, and pay teachers is the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group got a lot of press last year when it released its Teacher Policy Yearbook, which is a “review of state laws, rules and regulations that govern the teaching profession,” addressing “teacher preparation, evaluation, alternative certification and compensation.”

The group offers five criteria for judging any changes to personnel policy [quoting from this page]

  1. They are supported by a strong rationale, grounded in the best research available. (A full list of the citations supporting each goal can be found at www.nctq.org/stpy.)
  2. They offer practical, rather than pie-in-the-sky, solutions for improving teacher quality.
  3. They take on the teaching profession’s most pressing needs, including making the profession more responsive to the current labor market.
  4. They are for the most part relatively cost neutral.
  5. They respect the legitimate constraints that some states face so that the goals can work in all 50 states.

The report evaluates five different areas of state policies. Here they are, taken from the Kansas-specific version [PDF] of the national report.

  • Delivering well-prepared teachers. Grade: D+
  • Expanding the pool of teachers. Grade: F
  • Identifying effective teachers. Grade: D
  • Retaining effective teachers. Grade: C-
  • Removing ineffective teachers. Grade: F

All in all, a poor showing.

Each area (represented by the five letter grades) has a number of goals, for a total of 33 goals. Of those, here’s how Kansas policy breaks down:

  • Fully meets: 2
  • Nearly meets: 2
  • Partially meets: 8
  • Meets only a small part: 6
  • Does not meet: 16

How can Kansas improve? Here are a few items from each area. While the report does comment Kansas policy in some goals, I’ve focused in this list on goals where Kansas “does not meet” or “meets only a small part.”

Delivering well-prepared teachers

  • Require college students who enter teacher-training programs to achieve a minimum score on a college entrance exam or basic skills test.
  • Require would-be elementary teachers to pass a test on methods of teaching reading and basic knowledge of mathematics.
  • Require teacher-training programs to increase the amount of data they collect on their graduates, so as to verify the effectiveness of the programs.

Expanding the pool of teachers

  • Require mid-career candidates for alternative certification to pass a subject-matter test, and use the results, as appropriate, to let candidates test out of certain classes.
  • Allow other organizations, such as school districts, to prepare teachers.
  • Eliminate the requirement that alternatively certified teachers be hired only after an exhaustive search for traditionally certified teachers
  • Require alternative certification programs to collect more data on their graduates, so as to verify the effectiveness of the program.

Identifying effective teachers

  • Extend the probationary period for new teachers to five years and create a mechanism for evaluating teacher effectiveness.
  • Require districts to use student performance as the preponderant component of the tenure-granting process. (Today, it’s one of many components, and the language gives districts too much wiggle room to ignore it.)
  • Require all probationary teachers to be evaluated annually. (Today, it’s required for only two years.)

Retaining effective teachers

  • Pay teachers more for demonstrated classroom effectiveness, and for being granted (a reformed version of) tenure.
  • Start new teachers higher on the pay scale if they have relevant work experience.
  • Pay effective teachers more if they work in hard-to-staff subjects or schools.
  • Start a pilot program to test pay-for-performance, and look to Tennessee’s approach as a guide and food for thought.

Existing ineffective teachers

  • Put a strict limit (one year) on districts using non-licensed teachers, but be sure to require subject-matter knowledge.
  • Enact a policy whereby teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation are placed on an improvement plan; make all teachers who receive two unsatisfactory recommendations in a row (or two in five years) eligible for dismissal–even tenured teachers.
  • Differentiate the dismissal process for teachers under question for ineffective teaching from those suspected of committing felonies or morality rules.
  • If a school or district wishes to terminate a teacher for performance, make any appeals be heard before a panel of educators, not a court.

Those are a few of the recommendations. The document is 152 pages long, so I have highlighted only a few elements of it.  For example,  the report report identifies state(s) with best practices as well as research that supports the recommendations for each goal.

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