Focus on developing good teachers, not simply measuring them

Amid the current flurry of state policy reform activity around teaching, I’ve been thinking about what’s missing. My conclusion: A focus on teachers as learners.

Too many state policy efforts to strengthen educator effectiveness focus narrowly on identifying and removing poorly performing teachers. Where that gets us is largely dependent on who replaces them. But teachers feel under attack as a result of particular reform rhetoric and the “gotcha” focus of such policy changes.

Some advocates point to this too-narrow approach to measuring and sorting teachers as a silver-bullet solution to improving educator effectiveness. A recent high-profile study about the long-term impact of teachers finds that having an effective teacher matters – during school years and beyond. When offering conclusions and recommendations in this page one article from the New York Times, however, one of the authors promoted a singular method of identifying and removing poorly performing teachers (“fire people sooner rather than later”) – rather than suggesting a more comprehensive or nuanced solution.

Even the critical work of building educator evaluation systems sometimes appears to prioritize grading and ranking teachers over improving teaching performance. Let’s be clear. Designing and implementing evaluation must include two distinct components: (1) measuring teacher performance and (2) implementing systems to develop and, as needed, improve teacher performance.

Policymakers should make teacher development a more central focus of their current efforts. Teaching policy cannot become a set of solely accountability-focused or punitive measures. This is a point underscored in a recent Center for American Progress paper (Movin’ It and Improvin’ It!). Indeed, a comprehensive performance management system for teachers should not only measure performance, but also provide systemic opportunities for teachers to develop their practice and continuously learn and improve. Providing support and feedback to teachers only after they’ve failed an evaluation is shortsighted. But this is exactly how many state teacher evaluation systems are being designed.

New teachers, in particular, need special attention, both in schools and within state policy. Beginning educators have distinct needs and an initial learning curve. Research shows that comprehensive, high-quality teacher induction accelerates new teacher effectiveness, improves student learning, and reduces teacher attrition. That’s why, at New Teacher Center, we believe that every state should require all first- and second-year educators to receive the support they need to thrive in the classroom and improve student achievement.

California, historically, has been a beacon in terms of its state policies on new teacher induction and mentoring. The Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) program is one of the longest standing teacher induction programs in the nation, and California’s induction program standards are a national model. However, the state is in danger of sacrificing its historic position by eliminating dedicated state funding for induction and allowing districts to opt out of providing induction support by redirecting that funding toward “any educational purpose.”

Harmful state cutbacks

This is an unfortunate national trend. While states demand more accountability from educators, some are simultaneously reducing or zeroing out dedicated appropriations for teacher induction and suspending programs entirely. Most never provided such funding to begin with. As NTC’s Review of State Policies on Teacher Induction shows, most state policies lack a strong commitment to high-quality teacher induction and mentoring. Few envision teacher induction as a vehicle for instructional improvement, few have established quality induction program standards, few identify and train effective mentors, and almost none give local programs the needed resources to provide comprehensive support for new teachers.

For state teaching reforms to actually strengthen classroom effectiveness, they will need to attend to teachers as learners. To accomplish this, policy must chart a balanced and comprehensive course toward teaching excellence. Especially given that today the typical classroom teacher is a first-year teacher, state policy must include the provision of high-quality induction, on-the job professional development, and supportive teaching conditions to enable all educators to maximize their effectiveness.

If we don’t help all teachers to succeed, we will diminish their potential impact on student learning and likely make the teaching profession a less attractive option for the current and future generations.

Liam Goldrick is Director of Policy at New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. Mr. Goldrick leads a range of initiatives designed to strengthen new educator induction and mentoring policies at the state and national levels. Most recently, he served as project lead on the NTC Review of State Policies on Teacher Induction, which includes a policy paper and individual policy summaries for all 50 states.

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About Liam Goldrick

Liam Goldrick is Director of Policy at New Teacher Center, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving student learning by accelerating the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. Liam leads a range of initiatives designed to strengthen new educator induction and mentoring policies at the state and national levels. Most recently, he served as project lead on the NTC Review of State Policies on Teacher Induction, which includes a policy paper and individual policy summaries for all 50 states.

13 thoughts on “Focus on developing good teachers, not simply measuring them

  1. Rob Manwaring

    While I fully agree with Liam’s point that teacher policies need to focus on helping every teacher improve, not just on getting rid of ineffective teachers. And, while value added evaluation measures may have some value, they will not be able to help you figure out a path for a teacher to improve the quality of their instruction. The Milken’s TAP program is a great example of mixing quality evaluation tools with a strong focus on the teacher support based on individual needs of each teacher to improve.
    However, I strongly disagree that the state needs to be the leader of all efforts to improve teacher quality. In fact nationwide, the most successful teacher development and support systems are those developed and run by school districts and not the state. Local districts in collaboration with their teachers’ unions develop better evaluation tools and supports including peer review and other approaches. I have a lot more faith that the CORE districts will figure out a path forward on improving teacher quality than the CDE or CTC. In fact the state needs to get out of the way allow districts greater flexibility on how the evaluate teachers and how those evaluations are used. For example, master teachers should be able to evaluate new teachers, who better to understand the needs and supports for new teachers.
    School finance reform will provide districts with the resources that they need to make these investments. If districts decide to redirect these flexible funds away from induction, evaluation and supports to other uses, then shame on them for not recognizing the value of teacher quality. It is time to move away from state micromanagement.

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  2. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

    What wonderful back-to-basics ideas! It is a relief to read this piece. Thank you.
    No talk these days about strategies for preparing, sustaining and retaining excellent teachers or about what really works for the many kinds of kids in California classrooms. What little there is comes from the Governor. As for State vs. Local, I too think local is better, if it’s a big community with resources. But many hamlets in California need help beyond their borders and state assistance in such cases is critical.
    In San Diego where I live, the dialogue about public school teachers in an on-line daily journal is entirely adversarial and union-focused — either profoundly negative or staunchly true-blue defensive. The war of words is compounded by the paper’s having just liberated its strongest reporter who had thoroughly covered education.  She has been replaced with a generalist, to the consternation of the readership. And the teachers’ union refuses to talk to the replacement reporter.
    Meanwhile, the teachers’ union is taking a hard line to protect its jobs, wages and working conditions; defends all terms of its contract including the damaging last-hired-first-fired seniority  system which hurts low-SES school staffing and puts young teachers on the street; and is insisting on a promised big raise that’s supposed to kick in this year. All this, despite the district’s huge operating deficit; a new round of layoffs projected for March; constantly increasing class sizes, legally iffy community-based fund-raising, and other desperate measures.
    Libertarians are in high dudgeon and, along with scions from the business community, continue to angle for dissolution of the elected school board and/or mayoral control and/or school vouchers. Parents are worried sick about the future and  are powerless to return the conversation to anything substantive such as strategies for how to get and keep the best teachers to educate their kids.

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  3. Bill Honig

    Bravo, Liam for stressing the need for powerful teacher development strategies (either locally driven as Rob has suggested or state supported). Of course, induction and mentoring for new teachers is important, but so are local and state efforts to encourage team building and the capacity for continuous improvement at the school site. Add to this mix opportunities for our best teachers to take on mentoring roles and you have a perscription for improved performance which the most successful districts and world-class performers have followed.

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  4. Liam Goldrick

    Thanks for your comment. While I agree that a state needn’t lead “all efforts to improve teacher quality,” I believe that states have an important role to play in establishing goals, setting expectations and building local capacity around improving teaching. For example, with a focus on new teachers, state policy should set an expectation that every beginning educator will receive induction and mentoring support and should establish induction standards that set a high bar for quality but provide sufficient flexibility for schools and districts with different sets of needs and different contexts (urban, rural, charter, etc.) to customize their program. It is not so much the innovative or visionary districts I worry about. It is those districts that are providing the type of support and assistance to accelerate teaching practice that research tells us works. States — along with districts and schools – have a vested interest in ensuring that all students are taught by the most effective teachers possible. They can’t cede all leadership in the hopes that local educational leaders will step up to the plate in all cases.

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  5. Liam Goldrick

    Frances – Thanks for your thoughts. California is going to continue to grapple with challenges of building capacity in local districts to strengthen teaching and learning. My fear is, as in other states, the budget crunch is weakening the experience and talent within state ranks to provide anything more than a minimal level of program compliance. My fear is that programs like BTSA could waste away as districts are given a pass from taking the work seriously or offering up a program at all.

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  6. Liam Goldrick

    Bill – Totally agree with your proposed focus on team building within schools and within the ranks of the teaching corps. It can’t simply be about building individual capacity, but also elevating collective capacity. The best induction programs do exactly that by developing skilled coaches and mentors along with new teachers. In the New Teacher Center’s long-term program experience in the state of California, this is exactly what has happened in initiatives such as the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project. New teachers are retained in larger numbers, building experience and knowledge within the teaching corps. Skilled and trained mentors add to the talent pool and continue giving back after their mentoring assignment is over, by returning to the classroom, continuing in leadership roles, or entering administration.
    As policy efforts to focus greater accountability on individual teachers move forward, one challenge will be keeping a focus on teaching as a collective. Certainly the collective is made up of individual talent, but we also must attend to teaching as a joint endeavor and not simply a solo pursuit. If we’re not careful, some of these current policy efforts could cement the popular notion of teachers as individual stars and talents, rather than as professionals working together toward a common goal.

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  7. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman

    I completely agree that teaching as a collaborative activity is essential if our kids are to learn well. Building teacher capacity IS the basis for flexibility in meeting individual student needs, for tapping the creative wellspring in every teacher and for creating a collegial environment that fosters the best work from each teachers who systematically plan and learn from peers at their school.
    Take a look at the  LA Times’ description about how the troubled huge Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles worked: a year-round schedule with more than a thousand kids coming and going at all times, diminishing any sense of school community;  little or no contact among staffers who would go to their classrooms, close the door, operate in isolation and go home when the bell rang at day’s end. A template for disaster on many fronts, only some of which have come to public view.
    I have to say here  that teacher team-building and imaginative group-work cannot be shoe-horned into a timeframe that meets union contracts of “working to the rule.” Teachers are professionals:  the school day is for the classroom and it is after-hours that professionals meet to work on best practices and developing community.  Where I live, the teachers’ union officially denigrates and actively works to limit such after-school commitment as injurious to members unless there is additional compensation. This, in a district verging on bankruptcy.
    It is no wonder to me that the default position of desperate  public school critics becomes draconian “value-added” teacher evaluation based on scores from standardized tests. It is tragic that today no suggested  school improvement is permitted without coming up against the stone wall calculus of wages-and-benefits of the teachers union.

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  8. Rob Manwaring

    Liam, The state already requires that districts have induction programs. But the challenge is that  if the state sets the standard as you suggest, then presumably it would be the state’s role to also monitor that those standards are met or the standard is meaningless. Do you think the state has the capacity to monitor the quality of  an induction program, and that they could be the induction police to ensure that each district’s induction policy is meeting standards. It seems a slippery slope. I would prefer that the state require local districts develop induction policies instead of one statewide policy.
    Also, there is nothing in what you suggest that would mean that either the state provides earmarked funding for this activity or it doesn’t happen.

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  9. Rebecca Parker

    The CTC has already adopted standards for, and reviews, induction programs because they lead to a professional credential.  The standards were developed by an advisory group representing districts, universities, and other stakeholder groups and were approved by the Commission.  The Commission has a trained group of reviewers (Board of Institutional Reviewers) who volunteer to help with accreditation activities that occur throughout a seven year cycle.  Every agency that has an educator preparation program resulting in an authorization must participate in the accreditation cycle that requires submitting data on candidate competencies, updating narratives and supporting documentation, and hosting a site visit.  The results of the site visit are taken to the Committee on Accreditation for review and for a final accreditation decision.  For more information, please visit

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  10. Liam Goldrick

    Rob – We believe that California’s standards-based approach to teacher induction actually doesn’t create a single statewide policy per se, but actually allows for customization of induction programs at the local level. Unlike a state such as Arkansas or Delaware which really do set forth a statewide induction program, California really does not. Arguably, California has historically done among the best if not the best job in the nation at attending to monitoring induction program quality. Does that mean the state has successfully ensured quality? Certainly not, in all cases. The capacity of states to do that well is a critical question not just for induction programs but for a multitude of education policies. That challenge is only heightened by the recession and cuts to state agencies.  However, one thing California has done is to tap into the knowledge and expertise of local program leaders, so as not to rely exclusively on state capacity and authority to do this important work.
    On the issue of funding, certainly the absence of state funding does not preclude the operation of induction programs. But we at NTC feel that the stakes are so high that states should have some skin in the game in investing in high-quality induction programs that research has shown can accelerate new teacher development and positively impact student learning. As states are investing in evaluation systems and other teaching reforms, it makes sense to prioritize developing new and veterans teacher somewhere in that mix as well.
    We explore differences in state induction policies in our review, available here:
    Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing California’s approach to program review. We summarize it as well in our California induction policy summary here:

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