2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook: What states can do to retain effective new teachers

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Yesterday NCTQ released the 2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, our second annual review of what states are doing to help--and hinder--teacher quality. Unlike the more comprehensive analysis of states' teacher policies provided in the 2007 Yearbook, this year's edition focuses on a particular piece of the teacher quality puzzle: the retention of effective new teachers.

The 2008 Yearbook analyzes what each state is doing to identify teachers' effectiveness; support the retention of valuable, early career teachers; and dismiss those found to be ineffective, with each of these factors measured against a realistic blueprint for reform.

The third through fifth years of teaching represent an opportunity lost for the health of the teaching profession. Many new teachers leave at this juncture, just at the time that they are becoming consistently effective. Concurrently, school districts confer permanent status--more commonly understood as tenure--generally without the reflection or evidence that this important decision should merit.

While school districts certainly play a key role in whether these younger teachers decide to stay or go, it would be a mistake to underestimate the state's role. Without exception, the state controls virtually every aspect of the teaching profession, and in particular, licensure and tenure.

The findings are dismal. States' policies discourage promising new teachers from sticking with the profession, while doing little to identify and move out ineffective teachers. States do not require sufficient support and evaluation of new teachers. They do not require (and in some cases actually forbid) teachers' effectiveness to be considered when granting tenure, and are lagging in the development of the systems necessary for identifying effective teachers. States cling to anachronistic compensation schemes and place a disproportionate emphasis on providing pension benefits to retiring teachers at the expense of providing benefits that would appeal to younger teachers. Further, states allow far too many ineffective teachers to remain in the classroom and gain tenure, including teachers who repeatedly fail to meet the state's own licensing standards.

States' average overall grade in the Yearbook is a disappointing D+. South Carolina was the only state to earn a score higher than a C. With its noteworthy policies for moving out ineffective teachers, South Carolina's mark was a B-. Alabama, Ohio, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee also do better than most other states, though all only earn a C. The most frequent grade was a D, awarded to 30 states, and 6 states (District of Columbia, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) earned an F.

While it's tempting to fill this entire edition of TQB with Yearbook facts and findings, we'll resist and instead just offer a few illustrative examples:

  • States are not doing enough to help districts identify effective teachers. Although states control how and when local districts may award teacher tenure, they do not require districts to collect evidence of teacher effectiveness as part of that determination.
  • States are complicit in keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom: A mere 13 states specify that teachers who have been rated unsatisfactory on multiple evaluations should be eligible for dismissal.
  • State policies raise barriers and offer few incentives to retain effective teachers: More than half of states do not require that local districts provide new teachers with adequate support.

Some states will surely say that NCTQ doesn't understand local control, and that we are suggesting that states intervene in local personnel matters. But the reality is that just about all states already regulate these areas, they just don't do so productively. What is called for is not so much new regulation or even an expansion of the state role, but regulation done better, premised on what may not necessarily be in the best interest of teachers, but what is in the best interest of teacher quality.

The 51 state Yearbook reports and the national summary are available at: www.nctq.org/stpy.