TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

State Teacher Policy at a Tipping Point: NCTQ releases 9th Annual Yearbook

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Upon the release of our first comprehensive Yearbook that included state grades in 2009, the headline read: "Taken as a whole, state teacher policies are broken, outdated and inflexible." 

After six more annual encyclopedic reviews of just about every policy states have on their books that impact the teaching profession, the 2015 State Teacher Policy Yearbook reaches a decidedly more positive conclusion. In fact, we think 2015 may just be a tipping point year for teacher effectiveness policy in the United States. 

Across the nation, the average state teacher policy grade for 2015 is now a C–. Thirteen states earned grades in the B- to B+ range. Not a single state earned higher than a C in 2009. 

While the C- average is a mark that is still far too low to ensure teacher effectiveness nationwide, it is a very real improvement over the D average earned by the states in 2009. If an increase from a D to a C- doesn't strike you as overly impressive, bear in mind that we continue to raise the bar on certain topics as we see states exceeding our original expectations. This year, we scored for the first time states' alignment of their teacher preparation policies with the instructional shifts required by college- and career-readiness standards, a policy area in considerable need of attention. 

A tipping point is defined as the point at which an issue or idea crosses a certain threshold and gains momentum. In the 2015 Yearbook, we see the tide changing on elementary teacher licensing and prep program admission, with more than half of all states improving for teacher preparation requirements. In addition, 27 states now require annual evaluations for all teachers, 16 states include student achievement and growth as the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations, and 19 others include growth measures as a significant factor. 

This year, an all-time high of 23 states now require that tenure decisions are tied to teacher performance. Not a single state had such a requirement in 2009. Importantly, 28 now articulate that ineffective teaching is grounds for teacher dismissal, something only 11 states permitted in 2009. 

The Yearbook documents good state teacher policy progress to be sure. But there's no coasting to the finish line on the other side of this tipping point. On several critical fronts there are still only a precious few state leaders paving the way forward.

Secondary teacher licensing, for example, is simply out of sync with the adoption of college- and career-readiness standards. Just five states—Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and Tennessee—require secondary teachers to demonstrate their knowledge of the subjects they will teach without any loopholes in the disciplines of general science or social studies. Most states still turn a blind eye to the fact that just because someone knows some biology that doesn't make them qualified to teach physics. 

Special education remains a huge black mark for teacher policy, with 37 states still permitting special education teachers to teach any grade level K-12, something they would never dream of allowing for general education teachers. Just 14 states require elementary special education teachers to demonstrate that they have the subject-matter knowledge they'll need, and only Missouri, New York and Wisconsin require secondary level special education teachers to pass a test in each subject in which they are licensed to teach.

Teacher compensation reform also remains a stubbornly unchanging area of teacher policy. Only a handful of states have been willing to take on the issue of teacher pay: Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada and Utah all now tie compensation to teachers' evaluation results. 

Reflecting on a decade of tracking teacher policy, there is real energy behind states moving down a reform path focused on teacher effectiveness. Many states have taken just small steps while others have enacted watershed reforms. But with a few stubborn exceptions, each year fewer and fewer states remain out of step on numerous Yearbook goals. Given how far they've come, NCTQ thinks states are better positioned than ever to make meaningful reforms championing teacher effectiveness.

The national summary of the Yearbook and 51 state-specific versions can be found here. The Yearbook dashboard provides easy access to graphs, infographics and narratives for national and state-specific findings.