Building teachers to last

Teachers urge apprenticeships, career ladder

The biggest challenge facing legislators as they pursue rewriting the state’s teacher evaluation law this year is not how to weed out the worst teachers but how to retain the best. The key to the latter won’t be found in rubrics and value-added test scores but in deeper training for novice teachers and more career options for veteran teachers.

A baker’s dozen young and mid-career teachers make an articulate case for the latter in a new report, “Many Ways Up, No Reason To Move Out,” the product of the Bay Area New Millennium Initiative, a project affiliated with the North Carolina-based Center for Teaching Quality (go here to download it). The report serves as a reminder to lawmakers to keep in mind “To what end?” as they consider what elements should comprise a teacher evaluation.

The teachers call for three-year apprenticeships for new teachers and a career ladder that offers accomplished teachers leadership opportunities to entice them to stay in the classroom – instead of quitting the profession, as more than half do by the fifth year of teaching in some districts, or pursuing a job as an administrator, in part to make more money.

“Basically it’s like this:  If you’re competent and ambitious, you have to leave your job. Right now the only way to move up is in administration,” Sherene Judeh, one of the co-authors of the report, said at a conference last month in Sacramento on Teaching Quality and California’s Future (go here for a summary of the conference by David B. Cohen, one of the organizaers).

Judeh, a fifth-year teacher, and co-presenter Anna Martin, a seventh-year middle school teacher, embody the challenges facing teachers and districts that don’t want to lose them. A ninth- and tenth-grade humanities teacher and grade-level leader at Lighthouse Community Charter High School in Oakland, Judeh has had multiple roles already, chairing the algebra readiness committee and working with novice teachers as a mentor. Martin is a hybrid teacher in the Alum Rock Union School District in San Jose, coaching teachers, making student placement and master scheduling decisions, mentoring students, and providing professional development for all staff members.

Under a different career ladder, there would be other opportunities for teacher leaders. Source: "Many Ways Up, No Reason To Move Out." (Click twice to enlarge.)

Under a different career ladder, there would be other opportunities for teacher leaders. Source: "Many Ways Up, No Reason To Move Out." (Click twice to enlarge.)

But most districts lack clearly delineated career paths to become master, mentor, hybrid, or specialization teachers, linked to objective standards and professional development fostering teachers’ aspirations. And they lack pay differentials recognizing those levels of achievement, so that a master teacher can one day earn as much as an administrator.

Judeh and Martin started through Teach for America, which makes their advocacy for a three-year apprenticeship all the more interesting. They had only a five-week summer training course before being placed in high-poverty urban schools, then got their teaching credential while teaching school the first year.

“No first-year medical resident is given a scalpel, an operating room, and multiple surgeries to perform on her first day,” the report says. “No law intern argues a case by himself at his first court appearance. No rookie is the starting pitcher on the first day of his team’s season. Yet we continue to throw our beginning teachers into challenging environments without a support system in place to coach them. And unfortunately, in the end, students are the ones who suffer the most as a result.”

In the first year of a three-year preparation program, the apprentice teacher would observe a mentor teacher, while helping to plan lessons, working with students in small groups and taking courses for a credential. In the second year, the apprentice teacher would teach two classes, with the mentor teacher observing and the apprentice meeting regularly with the cohort of apprentice teachers in the credentialing program. In the third year, the apprentice would teach a full load, with the mentor teacher  observing during several paid release days per month.

The apprenticeship is modeled after urban teacher residency programs in Boston and Chicago. San Francisco Unified and Aspire Public Schools have year-long versions, too, as do a number of teacher preparation programs at several California State University campuses. The teacher candidates bear the full cost of the program.

Carolyn Nelson, dean of the College of Education and Allied Studies at California State University, East Bay, said “a more gradual training model, like a medical residency, would be a wonderful way to go.” The issue would be funding, particularly paying for the equivalent of a full-time teaching salary the second year, with added support the third.

The expectation would be that better trained beginner teachers would feel more supported and confident and be less inclined to leave. Turnover has a big cost: Referring to  a study by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the report cited the cost of recruiting, hiring, and retraining replacement teachers nationally at  $7.34 billion annually, with high-poverty, high-minority districts bearing a disproportionate cost.

The report challenges the status quo – teacher tenure after only two years and a pay scale based on years on the job – that the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers defend. “Effectiveness,” the report says, “will no longer be marked simply by a set number of years in the field. Instead, a clearly delineated career continuum will be linked to objective teaching standards and benchmarks, not the traditional and outmoded ‘steps and columns’ system that still dominates American public education today.”

The recommendations are what may be needed to attract a new generation of teachers looking for more respect and more career opportunities backed by better pay.


  1. I really like the idea of a system of apprenticeship. The only true barrier is money.
    I also think creating opportunities for more responsibility and more variation with teacher duties could work… again, if there was money.
    People focus on the two year tenure and talk about extending it to five years, but I think they look at it the wrong way. The two year tenure can also have the effect of ensuring that principals focus on and mentor new teachers aggressively so that they can make an effective reelect/non-reelect decision in that two years instead of keeping a marginal teacher longer. Do you want a principal keeping a marginal young teacher for 5 years? The tenure isn’t the problem – the issue is ensuring that removal for cause is a process that is available and fair to both district and staff.

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  2. A small aside on the issue of tenure…

    Few people realize that California’s current two-year tenure threshold was born of a compromise. In the old days, it took three years for a teacher to achieve tenure, but principals had to show cause to remove probationary teachers. Today, it takes two years for a teacher to achieve tenure, but principals can remove probationary teachers for any reason. It’s a moot point, anyway, as most temporary and probationary teachers face annual economic layoffs these days.

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  3. Let us note that CA teachers don’t have “tenure,” a term that applies to university instructors. Teachers are  substitutes, long term substitutes, temporary, probationary, or permanent. All categories except permanent can be dismissed without cause. Permanent employees can be dismissed only with” cause,” meaning management must be able to document whatever they say a teacher doing (or not doing) that should result in dismissal.
    Permanent status teachers are also under the protection of seniority rights. Meaning, in time of layoffs, the last hired is the first to be laid off. Districts have the right to “skip” over certain newer employees if they have credentials (say special education or certain science or math areas) that are needed to protect program. These protections are in place because, historically, management has been arbitrary in layoff processes and have released more senior teachers because newer teachers are the less expensive alternative.
    Ironically, though research indicates more experienced teachers are the best equipped with instructional skills, the current trend is to try and undermine seniority rights and make it easier to release the more effective senior teacher to keep the newer, and again cheaper, teachers. The underlying motivation here, phrased in high minded rhetoric, is to undermine the teaching profession, undermine teachers’ unions, and contain costs.
    Certain organizations have taken positions for insuring senior teachers remained at high risk schools (undermine teachers’ transfer rights) before they were for making it easier to release senior teachers (undermine teachers’ seniority rights). The common denominator is to always undermine teachers’ employment rights.
    A point made previously is that certain schools do have issues with high numbers of junior teachers meaning that, in times of layoff, there is considerable “churn” at those schools. That is the symptom. The problem is that teachers leave those schools the very moment they have seniority because (teachers have cited this numerous times in surveys) of: 1) poor leadership; and, 2) a lack of resources. There are efforts to treat the symptom by attacking seniority transfer rights. There are no observable efforts to treat the leadership/resources problems. Go figure.

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  4. God, a three year apprenticeship. Shoot me now.
    I don’t like the idea of a “track”. Come up with different job categories, if you like, but don’t make a teacher career path. Most teachers like being in the classroom.
    Besides, once you move out of the classroom, you’re overhead, baby.

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  5. Gary, yes, “permanent” status is the legal word for tenured.
    A key study showed that a teacher’s effectiveness reaches a plateau after five years. This, and the fact that the experienced teachers cherry-pick at every stage (at the state level, when choosing a district;* at the district level, when transferring between schools;** and at the school level, when selecting a teaching assignment**) seems to undermine the argument for putting so much weight on years of experience in hiring, transfer, and assignment decisions.
    Protections against arbitrariness are necessary, especially in a high-touch field like teaching, where emotion and ego would otherwise lead to quick and unfair decisions. Still, if old-timers are so effective, why do they pick the easiest districts, schools, and assignments? Shouldn’t their purported strengths be put to use in the toughest settings, with newcomers transitioning gradually from easy to difficult teaching assignments, instead of the other way around? I wonder how senior teachers, who tend to lack training/experience in technology, English language development, and special education mainstreaming, whose credentials (“Life General Secondary”, for example) were based on more liberal teacher preparation standards, and who may never have demonstrated subject-matter competence by completing a major or passing a rigorous examination (ref: “HOUSSE”), would fare in today’s toughest classrooms.
    * The longevity of the teacher workforce varies from district to district. Nice districts (Carmel-level) employ very few new teachers.
    ** These rights depend on local collective bargaining agreements. Seniority and possession of an appropriate credential are usually the only criteria, but some contracts also mention “programmatic needs”, giving districts a modicum of authority over teacher transfer and assignment. Beyond seniority-based choice of assignments, long-standing teachers may also be able to use their  relationships with principals and counselors to manipulate class composition, shifting difficult students to other teachers’ classrooms. I’ve seen it myself.

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  6. Paul:
    No. Permanent status is not a synonym for “tenure.” Tenure is a university level conferred status, usually granted by a group of peers or some combination of peers and administration. CA does not allow for teachers or unions to participate in the hiring or firing of teachers. Teachers can sit in on committees that review job candidates and make recommendations, but the hiring is strictly by administration acting for the local board. Teacher dismissal is not a contract issue. It is defined by statute. Districts have two or more years, while the teacher is a temporary or probationary, where they can be released without cause.
    Permanent status grants rights to due process and seniority.
    The “study” you quote is problematic. As I recall it was released by some conservative think-tank and deserves recognition only as an elaborate press release. But, assuming it was a peer reviewed study released in a professional journal or before a learned body, it measured teacher effectiveness using student test scores. Student test scores according to the nation’s highest scientific body, the National Academy of Sciences, cannot measure teacher effects with validity or reliability. The latest Ed Week has an article relating to teachers and the “rigorous exams” they have to take for credentialing purposes. The teachers are passing with scores far above the requirements. To suggest veteran teachers couldn’t do the same is pure speculation.
    Recall that in CA teachers must have a BA degree in some academic field prior to even getting into a credential program.
    It is not contracts but the state education code that gives districts the right to skip over teachers in layoffs due to programatic needs. Districts can layoff teachers without EL authorization and skip over those who have it. I don’t know of any special designation for people dealing with mainstreamed special education students. Typically the classroom teacher participates in the development of the IEP and is made aware of modifications to program that are deemed necessary.
    If you’re suggesting that human relations, between teachers, counselors, and administrators, plays some part in school operations I’d have to agree. What institution doesn’t operate under those conditions?
    Again, I repeat one more time, the research done on why teachers leave certain schools (and often the profession) is a lack of solid leadership and a lack of resources to do their jobs. It is not because of tough kids. Though dollar compensation isn’t a prime driver of teacher incentives there is no doubt a drift towards districts offering higher compensation. Those are typically in more affluent areas. Why wouldn’t some teachers behave in this way?
    The leadership and resources question is one everyone seems to dodge. Understandable. Dealing with the real problems is far more difficult than just scape-goating the “bad teacher.”
    Do you really think a school situation, highly dependent on relationships between teachers and students, is a good setting to be forcing people to work at certain sites? Odd proposition that.

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  7. @Gary, I understand the Education Code, certificated employment classifications (permanent/probationary/temporary/substitute), and the distinction between statutory and contractual matters very well.
    “CA does not allow for teachers or unions to participate in the hiring or firing of teachers. Teachers can sit in on committees that review job candidates and make recommendations, but the hiring is strictly by administration acting for the local board. Teacher dismissal is not a contract issue. It is defined by statute. Districts have two or more years, while the teacher is a temporary or probationary, where they can be released without cause.” Nowhere do I claim otherwise.
    I do claim that districts have a built-in preference for hiring experienced teachers, and that some districts hire very few new teachers. Do you disagree? (Clearly, we disagree on the importance of experience; for you, experience is all that matters, and for me, it’s important only up to a point.)
    I do claim that local contracts govern the assignment of teachers to schools and to specific classrooms, and that many such agreements make seniority and possession of an appropriate credential the only criteria. Do you disagree?
    I also claim that there are material differences in teacher preparation standards as we move forward in time. Do you disagree? Teachers prepared before 2002 need not have completed a university major in their subject specialty, and need not have passed a subject matter examination. They self-certify their “highly-qualified” status using a process called HOUSSE, which gives credit for years of experience, awards, and other non-higher-education-related achievements. Technology training is a recent addition to California’s teacher preparation regulations. Training in English language development is a recent addition, as well. Though many veteran teachers were required to take classes or tests in this area, retroactively (which resulted in at least one interesting lawsuit, when an old-timer didn’t want to bother, despite release time, free tuition and a financial incentive from the local school district), this is not the same as being indoctrinated in ELD techniques from the moment of one’s first teacher preparation class. Special education inclusion is also novel, and was not addressed until recently in general education teacher preparation.
    I agree that school resources and leadership are key factors in job satisfaction for teachers. But aren’t these factors part of the landscape, in the same way that you claim that personal relationships between incumbent teachers and administrators, counselors, etc. are part of the landscape? Isn’t an experienced teacher better able to cope with limited resources and a negligent administration, than a new teacher would be?
    If we look at K-12 education as a system, in which many parties’ interests are to be served, can you really say that it makes sense to put the least experienced teachers in the toughest classrooms? Can you disagree with the medical resident/scalpel or general aviation pilot/747 analogies?

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  8. Paul:
    You don’t understand the distinction between tenure and permanent status as well as you think you do, or you wouldn’t be making the claims you do.
    To cut to the chase, normal human interactions in the workplace would be part of the “landscape.” The landscape can and does change: see Title IX for example.
    The issues of leadership and resources are not pert of the “landscape.” Those are choices. They can be changed. Your argument remains a treatment of symptoms rather than causes/problems. The symptom is too many junior teachers at some schools with unfortunate consequences of various kinds. Senior teachers are bailing out of schools when they can and not all contracts allow this) because of leadership and resources: so fix leadership and resources.
    There is research (see U of Chicago) on what constitutes good leadership: ability to be a good facilitator and ability to organize community resources are examples.
    Of course classes are assigned by credential. There has been a lot of work done recently to insure that fewer teachers are teaching outside their credential. A problem has been that teacher compensation has been so low that the private sector draws certain specializations out of the profession. That too can be fixed.
    CA needs to chose to let the revenue stream be enhanced in a democratic fashion. No more super-majority requirements. No more bowing to out of state lobbyists and pledges.  CA having per pupil spending ranked at 47th on cost-of-living weighted dollars is the consequence of a number of public policy choices. Those need to be changed. A start is the Millionaire’s Tax.

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  9. @Gary, considering that “tenure” appears 131 times on the Web site of the California School Boards Association, and that I regularly read their legal advice to school districts about issues such as layoff precedence, it’s safe to say that “tenure” is plain language for “permanent” status — and that I understand the Education Code well enough.
    Nowhere do I suggest that possession of an appropriate credential should not be a factor in teacher transfer and assignment. That’s a matter of federal and state law. I mention credentialing because it is one of only two criteria for transfer and assignment, in typical collective bargaining agreements. My bringing up a credential-related case, in which an incumbent teacher argued that she was entitled to keep her job even though she was unwilling to add an authorization to serve English learners to her (old) credential, should signal that I strongly support consideration of credentialing in assignment decisions.
    Clearly, it’s the other criterion — seniority — that I dislike. You don’t address that in your last post. Given a pool of appropriately-credentialed candidates, seniority isn’t the sole predictor of effectiveness.
    We’ll have to agree to disagree: you believe that districts should continue to allow transfers and assignments based on seniority, and I believe that other factors, such as recency of training (i.e., scope and rigor), should be considered.
    One thing we do agree on is that more money should be invested in public education. From your biography, I infer that much of your teaching service was completed in better economic times. I am a young teacher who has started his service in terrible economic times. The consequences of underfunding are very real to me. Unfortunately, though, California voters and taxpayers do not agree with us. They chose today’s low level of funding, and have so far not chosen to increase it. That is the landscape.

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  10. Paul:
    First, welcome to the profession.
    One more time around with this topic: tenure v. permanent. Tenure and permanent status are not synonymous. It is convenient to use tenure, but it conveys a message to the public-teachers cannot be dismissed-that is a distortion. Though the difference is significant those who should know better continue to use it in spite of the public confusion it generates. What would their motives be? CSBA uses it (I will take your word for it) 131 times. That is about the same number of times “research based” is used in the NCLB legislation even though none of it was based on research. What would their motives be?
    Think about it.
    I entered the profession during the “Nixon recession” when there was significant declining enrollment with the attendant layoffs. It took me three years of substituting and a government funded school position at about half of regular a teacher’s compensation before a job opened up. The regular instructional year was 175 days at that time. Five more days were added in the early 1980s. The state added about two days worth of per diem. What a deal. I received a pink slip the first three years of my employment because then, as now, districts budgeted and staffed on a “worst case” basis. I was always hired back, but for a young father it was…bothersome… doesn’t really capture the experience but there it is. Having been involved in local collective  bargaining from the late 1980s to 2008 I can only recall one year when the state COLA matched actual cost-of-living increases and that was a huge 10% (under Gray Davis)  that allowed compensation to make up for a decade of  underfunding. The remainder of the time was an exercise in the state of CA applying the noun deficit as a verb to how it danced around the Prop 98 “guarantee.”
    Things are tough now, tougher than even my experience for 35 years in the classroom. But to think of these , “days of yore,”as a golden era of school finance is a bit more than a stretch.
    In my 20 something years as a local union official one thing I noticed was changing attitudes towards certain issues as personal conditions evolved. At least for some people. One might be health benefits. We had a “composite rate” for the health program. One monthly cost (the “cap”) for  employees and, depending on which of three options was chosen, some costs out-of-pocket. New members often lobbied for a more individual approach. As young people it would have been possible to get a rate (for the low rent choice) considerably less than the base rate. This would have left older employees with families paying considerably more. As a union, a democratic organization, with the bulk of employees in the more senior category the best deal for the most members was the composite. Junior members (some only) struggled with this concept of “fairness” and the greatest good for the greatest number. They continued to struggle right up to the point they began having families of their own. At this point they became big fans of the composite rate. And so it goes.
    Seniority rights are in place because they are fair and the most objective. They are not dependent on possible arbitrary and capricious decisions by management. The rules represent the greatest good for the greatest number. Those are concepts that have a certain moral clarity to many. Others not so much. Some of us get involved in union work, others don’t. If you are of a certain ‘libertarian” frame of mind those values are likely less important.
    The other possibility is as people gain seniority they begin to appreciate it more.

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  11. Sincere thanks for the reply, Gary.
    There’s no question that there were tough economic times in the 1970s and early 80s, although many government agencies did eventually approve pay increases to make up for years of inflation. Class sizes might or might not have been smaller, but I think it’s fair to say that workloads were more reasonable. Pensions were also secure, and switching new employees from defined benefit to defined contribution or hybrid DB/DC plans would have been politically unthinkable. I’m not trying to compete for the status of “worst off”, or to imply that any of this would be news to you. Hopefully, though, mentioning these changes will make them real for conservatives and non-teachers who also read TopEd.
    I don’t agree with composite health insurance rates, but my reasoning is different: despite having a spouse myself, I believe in equal pay for work of equal value. Employer-paid health insurance premiums are a form of pay, and it is unfair for one person to receive thousands of dollars more per year than a colleague, simply for having a family. In organizations where group health coverage is optional, composite rates may be so high as to discourage younger members, who are ostensibly healthier and more likely to be single, from participating. This can cause rates to rise for the remaining members.
    I oppose seniority not because I’m afraid of losing my own job (I am a second-career teacher, and would be working fewer hours and earning more money if I were not teaching), but because, on principle, it is wrong to tell new teachers that, no matter how hard they work and no matter how effective they are, their efforts have absolutely no impact on their chances of keeping their jobs. This creates discouragement at the individual level and misallocation of talent at the system level.
    The question of preventing administrators from making arbitrary decisions is a thorny one. I agree that administrators — who are becoming increasingly incompetent* — must be held in check. I would go so far as to support completely random assignment (of appropriately credentialed teachers). That approach, at least, would do a better job of equalizing experience across schools. An alternative would be to legitimize professional mobility, reinvest in the system, and restore class sizes to reasonable levels, thereby reestablishing a labor market for teachers. Those who work for bad administrators should be free to leave, without stigma and without dire financial consequences.
    * It used to be that the typical administrator started as a P.E. teacher. Through the 1970s, credential regulations even distinguished between “academic” and “non-academic” subjects! Today, it’s that schools and districts are so unpleasant that mature professionals (and intelligent young people) won’t work there. This leaves a leadership vacuum and compels the employment of completely inexperienced leaders. Diane Ravitch mentions leadership changes in her latest book. She chalks the trend up to creeping privatization, which is doubtlessly also a factor.

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  12. Paul:
    If you would like to continue the discussion I would be happy to respond as time allows:

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