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Legislation Would Strengthen Teaching Requirements in California

By Bess Keller — February 12, 2003 3 min read
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California lawmakers trying to shape the next 20 years of education in their state want to tighten the requirements for teachers by abolishing license waivers, emergency teaching permits, and a credential that allows people to enter the classroom with incomplete subject-matter preparation.

Legislators said that between 20 percent and 50 percent of teachers in the state’s lowest-performing schools are currently teaching under waivers and emergency permits. The aim of the bill is “to have the best teachers, counselors, administrators, and [other professionals] we can provide, and to ensure they are equitably spread among all schools,” said Assemblywoman Carole Liu, a Democrat who is a member of the legislature’s lower chamber and the author of the bill.

The prohibition on waivers and emergency permits by 2005 would coincide with the deadline for states to meet a requirement of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, which mandates that there be only “highly qualified” teachers in any public school receiving federal money.

California’s proposed law addresses issues related to teacher quality from preschool through higher education as part of an effort to give the nation’s most populous state a 20-year education master plan. Formulated by a bipartisan and bicameral committee of the legislature, the plan has spawned several pieces of legislation, with more to come.

In addition to clamping down on teacher qualifications, the bill introduced last week would:

  • Require teacher training to focus on the needs of minority learners, including those who are poor and do not speak English as a first language;
  • Tighten requirements for teacher professional development and establish a system of rewards for excellent teaching;
  • Seek to improve the lot of nontenure-track faculty at state universities, in part by giving more weight to teaching excellence;
  • Set higher preparation standards for early- childhood teachers;
  • Establish uniform statewide health benefits for all public school employees.

The bill’s authors said they were also interested in providing incentives for the best teachers to move to low-performing schools.

Sen. Dede Alpert, the Democrat who chaired the committee charged with writing the master plan, noted that much remains to be worked out in the bill, which could have a price tag of $350 million over five years.

“We expect it is very likely these bills will take both years of the [legislative] session” just under way, she said, acknowledging the difficulty presented by the state’s financial troubles.(“Calif. Lawmakers Debate Adding Class-Size Leeway,” this issue.)

Teacher-Quality Ratings

While legislators are waiting for a comprehensive law on teacher quality, an education professor at California State University-Sacramento has launched a Web site, www.edfordemocracy.org/tqi, where parents and policymakers can compare any California public schools or districts along precisely that dimension.

Ironically, the Teacher Quality Index was the subject of a bill two years ago, when it was approved as a state project by the legislature. But Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, citing fiscal concerns.

The professor, Ken Futernick, said that after he got over his disappointment, he continued the work, developing the index on his own time in consultation with friends, colleagues, and teaching-profession guru Linda Darling-Hammond.

Last week, Mr. Futernick and Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, the Democrat who put forward the index legislation in 2001, unveiled the site, which uses California education department data to rate the qualification levels of teaching staffs across the state. Mr. Steinberg said he believed it was the first such resource in the nation.

In addition to a 1-to-10 rating for each of the state’s public schools, the site offers a “spread rating” for districts, showing how evenly fully prepared and experienced teachers are distributed among its schools. It also includes two “case studies” of districts that have made progress in attracting and retaining such teachers in all their schools.

Mr. Futernick hopes users will point him to more success stories for his pages.

“At least we now have a standardized way of gauging the quality of teachers that doesn’t just focus on credentials, but also on experience,” he said.

Mr. Futernick said he was pleased by the initial response—although it brought so much traffic to his site that some users were denied access on the first day, and he had to make an emergency repair. He hopes the index eventually will attract enough attention that the state will decide to set standards related to the ratings.

Meanwhile, he wants to add data on secondary school teachers working outside their fields of specialization and perhaps find some financial and technical help for the project.

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