California is AWOL on Teacher Leadership Policies


A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the National Council on Teacher Quality’s excellent research on California’s failed teacher quality policies, and now the organization has followed up by releasing a new analysis showing that California is AWOL when it comes to policies on teacher leadership.

The NCTQ analysis notes that survey data show that “teachers want greater autonomy and more leadership opportunity,” and points to Utah as a state with a promising policy promoting teacher leadership.

Utah has a teacher leader designation that “provides a variety of meaningful leadership positions through which teachers can take on added responsibility,” but, however, they “must be rated effective or higher under an evaluation system that includes objective measures of student growth.”

The Utah teacher-leader policy does not require specific incentives, but “its policy includes explicit language that encourages districts to provide both monetary and non-monetary supports” for these teacher leaders.

“Overall,” observes the NCTQ analysis, “Utah’s teacher leadership policy establishes a strong floor for what districts must offer their effective teachers in terms of preparation and advancement opportunities.”

In all, there are currently 35 states that NCTQ found that have some formal policy designating effective teachers as leaders without taking these educators out of the classroom.

But California isn’t one of them.

In fact, California is devoid of any meaningful teacher leadership policies.

Does California define explicit teacher leadership roles?  No.

Does California require that teacher leaders be selected, at least in part, based on classroom effectiveness?  No.

Are there any monetary incentives for teacher leaders in California?  No.

Are there any non-monetary incentives?  No.

Does the state require teacher training for leadership roles?  According to NCTQ, in California, “No professional development is required for the opportunity.”

Especially for a policy-barren state like California, NCTQ recommends that states work with school districts to outline formal teacher leader positions and consider establishing clear standards for what defines a teacher leader.

Further, states should require districts to strategically select teacher leaders based on factors including a teacher’s expertise in his or her subject area, as well as classroom effectiveness and the ability to lead adults.

States like California should also develop programs or guidelines for professional development that support teacher leaders in their new roles and create requirements or recommendations for incentives that meaningfully compensate and support teachers who assume leadership roles.

So, what would an effective teacher-leader program actually look like?

In their excellent recent article in EduationNext, Emily and Bryan Hassel, co-presidents of the education organization Public Impact, write, “Those educators—the ones who help students make significantly higher growth—need better-paid career options that help all educators excel.”

Thus, “systems must be encouraged and supported to redesign roles, budgets, and schedules to put their limited number of excellent teachers in charge of small teaching teams, for more pay, within regular budgets.”

The Hassels say: “By leading small teams through intensive guidance and development, each excellent educator can positively impact the student outcomes of five or six educators. At scale, that has the potential to reach literally all students with excellent instruction. With help like this, far more teachers excel. Well-led teams can help systems ‘grow their own,’ creating internal pipelines to supply these multi-classroom leaders and principals for the future.”

Research on their own program, called the Opportunity Culture initiative, which incorporates these elements, found “that when team teachers, who started out producing growth at the 50th percentile on average, joined small teams led by proven excellent teachers called ‘multi-classroom leaders,’ they produced growth in the 75th to 85th percentile in math, and the 66th to 72nd percentile in reading (in six of seven statistical models).”

A well thought out teacher leadership program, therefore, has the possibility of creating a ripple effect of improved teacher effectiveness and higher student achievement.  California is missing a great opportunity and needs to get cracking.

–Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and the author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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