Shoring up teacher quality by the bay

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Yesterday NCTQ released a study on teacher policies in the Oakland Unified School District. This is the ninth in a series of studies examining specific school districts across the country on how they can build teacher quality, whether through contractual changes, state legislation or better

Like other urban students in this country, far too many Oakland students perform years behind more advantaged peers.  While the district has made big progress over the last decade, still just 42 percent of 4th graders in Oakland scored proficient or above on the California Standards Test in reading.

Here's a sample of some of our key findings:

  • Schools have too little say regarding who joins their faculty, meaning that they have no assurance that a teacher will be a good fit. Having this staffing authority is at the top of the wish list of principals we spoke to.
  • Oakland's teacher evaluation system is confusing, unhelpful to both teachers and the district, and is in dire need of an overhaul.  It identifies only a few teachers a year for extra support and does nothing to identify the district's superstars. 
  • The school day for elementary teachers is woefully short at 6-3/4 hours, leaving little time for Oakland's elementary teachers to meet with their colleagues. 
  • Absentee rates are unacceptably high, averaging 13 days per teacher a year - just about a day every two weeks.

While many of our recommendations require negotiation with the teachers union or change in statute at the state level, we continue to find--as we have in all of our district studies-- that there are a number of areas where the district could make positive changes immediately.  We rarely find that the true culprit for poor practices in a district is the teacher contract.  Rather it is the gradual erosion over decades of high standards, creating a high tolerance for mediocrity.  Our children deserve better, as do our teachers.