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Teacher groups frustrated with California ESSA plan’s ‘loose’ definition of ineffective teachers

Mike Szymanski | July 14, 2017

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Teacher advocacy groups are concerned that California’s definition of an ineffective teacher is too loose and won’t be bolstered before the state has to turn in its federal accountability plan in two months.

Each state must submit its plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act by Sept. 18, and one accountability measure is ensuring that low-income and minority students are not disproportionately taught by inexperienced or incompetent teachers.

But this week, the state Board of Education approved a vague definition that observers say is not as robust as some of the states that have already turned in their plans to the federal government. California is one of 34 states yet to submit their plan.

“We are very disappointed in the way it is so far,” said Daniel Weisberg, the CEO of TNTP, an education nonprofit that helps school systems across the country end educational inequality. “California’s loose definition of an ineffective teacher is not good for teachers overall.”

In the California ESSA plan, the definition of an ineffective teacher is someone who lacks their full credentials or is assigned to teach the wrong grade level or class. It does not measure teacher performance.

Exclusive interactive map shows states’ progress in finalizing ESSA plans

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Weisberg pointed out that especially after the Vergara v. California case, the state Board of Education should be more vigorous about setting standards.

“Vergara showed robust and undisputed evidence that there are still major issues of ineffective teachers throughout the state, regardless of the outcome of the litigation,” Weisberg said. “To not address that inequity will harm millions of kids.”

The Vergara case challenged teacher tenure laws and held that students had a right to be taught by an effective teacher. The California Supreme Court declined to review the case last year, and the battle now moves to the California Legislature.

The National Council on Teacher Quality is closely monitoring and reviewing the states’ ESSA plans and their report noted  that Tennessee and New Mexico have good definitions of ineffective teachers.

“New Mexico and Tennessee have multiple objective measures and incorporate a growth percentile, they are very specific,” Weisberg said. “It can be done.”

The definition of an ineffective teacher is one of the most contentious parts of developing an ESSA plan, Weisberg said. “California is not alone with this loose definition.”

Ryan Smith, executive director of The Education Trust – West, wrote a letter to the state board stating, “We are very concerned that the state proposed to define ineffective teachers as those that are miss-assigned or teaching without a full credential. The mark of an effective teacher should be their ability to help students learn.”

EdTrust suggested that the plan include something other than a student’s standardized test scores, such as absentee rates and employment turnover as possible measures.

The Association of California School Administrators wrote that teachers with preliminary credentials or on short-term permits should not be considered ineffective or compared to “a teacher who is fully credentialed but ineffective in instructional practices.”

“We have surveyed and talked to thousands of teachers, and we found out that they are more satisfied working in a place where there is a clear picture of excellence,” Weisberg said. “This will help all teachers.”

The state board’s president, Michael Kirst, said at this week’s meeting that having a loose definition could keep the federal government from meddling with schools in California. The state can amend the plan with more details in the future.

One of the board members, Ting Sun, summed up the discussion up with, “The whole ineffective teacher definition gives me heartburn.”


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