Great Teachers Need Great Preparation

By the LEV Policy Team

K-12 Education - League of Education VotersOur conversation around redefining basic education continues with an examination of an often overlooked part of the education system, educator preparation.

Research consistently shows that teachers have the strongest school-based impact on student performance. The impacts of a highly effective teacher or low-performing teacher can affect students for years to come and influence a student’s likelihood of college attendance and persistence. Our educational system must equip teachers with the skill sets required to meet the needs of a student body that is more diverse each year.

Our understanding of how to better support, engage, and teach students grows each year, yet many preparation programs have not used this growing body of research to change how they prepare teachers. This knowledge can be a valuable asset as we prepare future educators to meet the challenges they will face in the classroom. Unfortunately, most teachers feel that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the challenges of teaching.

Improving preparation programs is an important starting point to ensure every student has access to effective teachers. One way to improve these programs is to include longer, more intentional student teaching experiences. Some programs only require one-semester of student teaching which doesn’t always provide aspiring teachers with enough time to experience the range of challenges of running their own classrooms.

In contrast some teacher preparation programs, like Heritage University, have developed longer, more intentional approaches to student teacher placements. Aspiring teachers will work in a classroom for more than a year as they build the knowledge and understanding that they will need to succeed when they become a teacher. It is new approaches to teacher preparation like this that will help to provide the necessary foundation for aspiring teachers.

Another means to ensure new teachers develop the appropriate skills to be successful in increasingly diverse classrooms is providing a curriculum in preparation programs that is reflective of the skills and understanding needed to positively impact student learning, like trauma informed instruction and culturally responsive instruction. This type of training should also be provided to current and veteran teachers.

Trauma informed instruction/care

  • “In this approach, the adults in the school building understand the prevalence and impact of adverse childhood experiences, the role trauma plays in people’s lives, and the complex and varied paths for healing and recovery.”
  • “A trauma-informed approach asks: ‘What happened to you?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong with you?’ It is designed to avoid re-traumatizing already traumatized people, with a focus on ‘safety first’ (including emotional safety), and a commitment to do no harm.”

Culturally Responsive Instruction

  • Culturally responsive instruction is “recognizing the differences among students and families from different cultural groups, responding to those differences positively, and being able to interact effectively in a range of cultural environments.”

If teachers are the most significant school-based factor on student achievement, appropriately preparing teachers is a common sense route to improving student outcomes. What can Washington state do to better prepare and support teachers?

#BeyondBasic

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Every Student Needs an Effective Teacher

By the LEV Policy Team

Teacher Helping Student - League of Education VotersAs discussed in our previous blog post on teacher compensation, investing in our teachers is critical to closing the opportunity gap in Washington state. Research has found that effective teachers* are inequitably distributed between districts and between schools within districts according to student poverty**. (Adamson and Darling-Hammond, IES brief, IES study, WA Equity report). This means that some of the students with the highest needs don’t have access to the teachers that can meet those needs. Research also indicates that improving the distribution of effective teachers can lessen the achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income students. So, how can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?

There are a number of reasons for the inequitable distribution of effective educators. In Washington, differences in salaries between districts because of local levy dollars and teacher shortages in particular endorsement areas have been found to contribute to the issue. Working conditions, school leadership, and available supports are also factors in teacher’s decisions of where to teach. In order to address these factors and ensure every student has access to effective teachers, we should pursue strategies to attract and better prepare new teachers as well as encourage and better support existing teachers to teach in high needs schools. Below are some of the strategies that could help us accomplish that.

Attracting and Preparing:

  • Increase starting teacher salary to attract more individuals to become teachers.
  • Create alternative pathways to certification to enable paraeducators and other career changers to pursue teaching. This will not only help give more effective individuals the opportunity to pursue teaching, but could also increase the number of teachers from historically underserved communities and diversify the teaching force.
  • Increase teacher preparation standards to make sure that teachers have received the training they need before they enter the classroom. This includes raising expectations for content and pedagogical knowledge, standardizing those expectations across preparation programs in Washington, and increasing preparation program quality.
  • Include more student teaching and practicum in teacher preparation programs. This will help future teachers gain more hands-on experience before entering their own classrooms. This can include partnership with districts, such as the Seattle Teacher Residency Program or Heritage University’s Residency program, and mentoring programs once teachers are placed in schools.

Supporting and Encouraging:

  • Provide state-funded professional development for all teachers. By supporting all teachers in their professional growth, we can increase the effectiveness of all educators.
  • Provide targeted professional development for teachers and principals in high needs schools. This will support teachers in meeting the specific needs of their students, and principals in meeting the needs of their teachers. The professional development could also be designed as an incentive to encourage teachers to move to high needs school, by providing additional opportunities for professional growth.
  • Institute mentoring programs in high needs schools. This would provide a leadership opportunity for veteran teachers and additional support for new teachers, improving the working conditions and growth opportunities for both.
  • Allow more flexibility for principals in high needs schools. Flexibility in staffing and programming could attract effective principals and allow them to set the culture and working conditions that will attract effective teachers.
  • Provide student loan forgiveness for teachers and principals who work in high needs schools for a sustained period of time.

Additional Strategies:

  • In order to really have a sense of whether students have access to effective educators, we must improve data collection and indicators of teacher effectiveness. Our current indicators of certification, education level, and years of experience do not provide information about actual teacher performance and impact on student learning. The Washington Equity report outlines some potential options for using the teacher evaluation system to enhance our effectiveness data.
  • Move bargaining of teacher salaries to the state level. This would eliminate the differences between districts in salary levels, thus decreasing the recruiting advantages one district may have over another.

How else can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?

#BeyondBasic

*Effective educator is defined differently in various studies. Some use value-added measures that incorporate student growth and others use definitions based on credentials and years of experience.

**Two of the studies also found similar inequitable distribution based on student race and ethnicity.

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

By the LEV Policy Team

Teacher Compensation - League of Education VotersWe begin our discussion of redefining basic education with the most important part of our education system: our teachers. Research consistently shows that teachers have the strongest school-based impact on student performance, but that is not reflected in their current pay. The Washington State Supreme Court is requiring the Legislature to increase the state contribution to teacher salary as part of its duty to fully fund education. As the state grapples with how to meet its McCleary obligations, we must continue to advocate for meaningful investments in education—which starts with investing in teachers.

Teacher salary in most districts comes from a combination of state and local levy funding. Currently, the state pays districts only $35,700 for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree. To provide a wage that accurately reflects the job responsibilities of teachers, districts use local levies to supplement state funded salary. The ability to pay teachers additional salary and the amount of additional salary varies from district to district and is dependent on how much districts are able to raise through local levies.

The average teacher in Washington gets paid $64,867, but the state only pays for $53,767 of that. The state must contribute more towards teacher pay, but simply changing who pays for teacher salary will not change the experience of teachers or students. Improvements to our state’s compensation system are needed to better recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teaching, including increasing starting teacher salary.

Our current state salary schedule focuses on years of experience and educational attainment rather than difficulty of the teaching assignment, job performance, or teaching certifications. Aligning teacher compensation to career advancement and attaining higher certification levels, as recommended by the Compensation Technical Working Group, would better align salary increases with the knowledge and skills teachers have accumulated. Teachers who have demonstrated excellence in teaching should also be given opportunities to take on additional leadership roles, such as serving as a mentor for beginning teachers, and be compensated for these additional contributions.

Ideally, compensation reform would include an extended contract that more accurately reflects the time and work teachers dedicate to their students outside of the school day or year, like evaluating student work or meeting with students after school. Providing teachers with a competitive salary along with an extended contract can allow more time and resources for parent teacher conferences, job-aligned professional learning, and lesson planning. An extended contract allows for restructuring professional development so it limits disruptions for students and families during the school year.

Establishing a better way to compensate teachers will help to attract and retain effective teachers, but compensation isn’t the only way we should be investing in teachers. Dissatisfaction with professional support, leadership, and other working conditions are leading causes for teacher turnover. We need a thoughtful approach to more effectively retain high-quality teachers that is informed by what causes teachers to leave the classroom. If Washington wants to address teacher retention in the long-term, we must do a better job of supporting teachers and school building leaders to tap into their incredible drive and passion for their students. We’ll be exploring ways to do this in upcoming blogs.

Our teachers are our most effective resource for closing the achievement gap and improving student outcomes. How can we move beyond the status quo and rethink the way that we compensate our educators?

#BeyondBasic

Read LEV board member Cate Simmers’ view on teacher compensation, A Teacher’s Perspective on Contracts and Collective Bargaining

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Rethinking Our Education System

By the LEV Policy Team

Children standing in front of a chalkboard - League of Education VotersIn the 2017 legislative session, Washington state is poised to make historic investments in basic education. But what will those dollars buy? The current program of “basic education” is not robust enough to meet our “paramount duty” and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills to compete in today’s economy and participate in our state’s democracy. The upcoming investment provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our system of education and the resources and tools at our disposal to provide Washington students with the education promised by our Constitution.

What is required of our educational system will continue to change over time. We need to develop a program of basic education that can evolve based on current and future student needs and a funding mechanism that is flexible enough to support that shifting program. Let’s envision a program of basic education that is aspirational and that creates a new path forward for Washington state. The vision should include best practices, teaching and instruction that closes achievement gaps, supports that allow students to be the best learners, a program that doesn’t start with kindergarten and end with high school, but consists of the full education continuum—early learning through postsecondary.

Ample and equitable funding is necessary to build a robust education system that works for all children. However, money is a tool, not a solution. New dollars should be seen as a tool to improve our system for all students. We believe that this can be done by rethinking how we:

  • compensate teachers and staff
  • leverage funding and human resources according to meet student needs
  • recruit, retain, and train teachers
  • provide additional student supports
  • measure the effectiveness of our investments and improve practice

How should we redefine basic education? Well, we don’t have to look far. There are programs and practices across our state that are working but need the proper investments in order to be sustained and spread to other schools and districts. Over the next few months, we’ll share how money can be used as a tool to fix teacher compensation; recruit, retain, and train qualified teachers; and add necessary student supports that yield positive outcomes and close achievement gaps. We’ll also share stories from around the state on how districts, community-based organizations, and citizens are closing gaps and subsidizing “basic education” with local resources. Asking the paramount question: How can money be used to go beyond our current basic education?

#BeyondBasic

Read Part 2 of our McCleary blog series, Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

Statement on the 2015-2017 Budget

After one long legislative session (followed by three special sessions), Governor Inslee signed Washington’s 2015–2017 state budget into law late in the evening on June 30, averting a government shutdown by less than an hour. An unprecedented series of events ultimately delayed sine die until today, but with the true end of our historically long 2015 legislative session at hand, we take a moment to reflect.

What we see in this budget is a more comprehensive investment in education than at any other time in the state’s history. Through their strong investments in public education across the spectrum, early learning through postsecondary, the Legislature has given all Washington’s students more hope for their future.

The 2015 Legislative SessionThe League of Education Voters has long argued that a child’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions from early learning through higher education. We have worked with partners around the state in pursuit of that vision, including with the Cradle through College Coalition. It is gratifying to see the Legislature following through with strategies and investments that support students at all ages. Read More

Activist(s) of the Month: Sarah Butcher, Jennifer Karls, Beth Sigall

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activists of the Month for April: Sarah Butcher, Jennifer Karls, and Beth Sigall. Read more about their experiences as strong advocates for special education.

Sarah Butcher, Jennifer Karls, and Beth Sigall are strong advocates for public education in Washington state. Sarah and Jennifer formed the Bellevue Special Needs PTA in 2012, where Jennifer serves as President and Sarah as co-Vice President. Beth serves as the Vice President of Advocacy for the Lake Washington PTSA Council. Read More

The 2014 Legislative Session

The 2014 legislative session may have been short, but there were significant policy accomplishments in improving public education in Washington state. These accomplishments expand access to financial aid for higher education for all Washington students, pave the way for all students to graduate from high school ready for college or career, and make steps toward reducing the opportunity and achievement gaps. Read More

Activist of the Month: Lynda Collie-Johnson

By Andaiye Qaasim, Community Organizer at the League of Education Voters

At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for January: Lynda Collie-Johnson. Read more about Lynda’s experience as an educator and at LEV’s Activist Training last year.
Read More

Money Matters in the Issaquah School District

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the last school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Alison MeryweatherBy Alison Meryweather, LEV Key Activist

Once the 2014 budget was approved, the Issaquah district moved quickly to strategically invest the additional funding. To be clear; our district has yet to be restored to pre-2008-2009 state funding levels, but with the “additional” $3 million allocation from the state, we could begin that process.

Below are some of the priorities where funding was spent:

Instructional Performance and Accountability: $1,000,000 for full implementation, district-wide, of the Teacher Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) Program. These additional funds are required to ensure the program is implemented with equity and transparency. These new evaluations are much more time-consuming and therefore the district opted to increase Dean of Students staffing at both the elementary and middle schools and add another Assistant Principal at two of our comprehensive high schools who have enrollments of 2,000 students each. This staff increase will also serve to assist students who need additional support to address their challenges.

Instructional Time: $200,000 to fund a pilot 7th period at two high schools to expand core graduation and elective options for students. Due to state funding constraints, our district only provides a 6-period day. The district will pilot an on-demand academic option, as well as provide transportation.

Student Health: While $975,000 overall was allocated, the district is contracting for Mental Health Counseling at all three of our comprehensive high schools, at a cost of $275,000. To me, this is a very smart investment. Data from our annual Healthy Youth Survey indicates numerous areas of significant concern. Our teachers are on the front line with our students and both need the guidance and support to navigate the complexities of social/emotional health.

Just imagine the opportunities for our students should the state fully adhere to the court McCleary decision to restore the previous funding levels and make additional essential investments in education!

Alison Meryweather is a passionate advocate for public education and has been volunteering for over a decade so that our students can benefit from the best education possible.

Money Matters in the Kent School District

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the third school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Agda BurchardBy Agda Burchard, Legislative Representative, Kent School District Board

Thanks to the state legislature, nearly $500 per student in additional funding was available at the start of the 2013–2014 school year.

In the Kent School District, a portion of the additional resources support student learning by funding:

  • Full-Day Kindergarten. Research shows that students who attend full-day kindergarten are more likely to be independent learners, more productive, and less likely to be withdrawn or aggressive. Seven additional elementary schools in Kent received state funds for full-day kindergarten. In a full day, teachers have more time to concentrate on teaching the curriculum and students are able to focus longer on a subject. Students also have time to engage in a wider range of activities including the arts and physical education.
  • Increasing Student Success. KSD added or expanded these programs:
    • Dual-language programs at Scenic Hill and Carriage Crest elementary schools. Students will focus on learning two languages and develop high linguistic and academic proficiency.
    • Preschool classes at Meridian and Park Orchard elementary schools. To prepare students for success in school.
    • Parent Academy for Student Achievement. The Parent Academy teaches parents how to engage in their children’s education and is taught in nine different languages.
    • Career Medical Pathways program at Kentlake in partnership with Renton Technical College. Students can take low-cost college courses and work with businesses such as MultiCare Health System to receive practical instruction in the medical field. This type of experience gives students new opportunities and advantages in the modern job market.

The additional state funding was a good down-payment toward fully funding public education as required by the state supreme court’s McCleary decision. When you see your state legislators, please thank them on behalf of the students in your community. And ask them to keep working to fully fund basic education so that all our students can increase their academic achievement and graduate ready for success in college, career, and community life.

Agda Burchard and her husband Tom have lived in Kent for 20 years. Agda became active in the Kent School District when their daughter Sam entered kindergarten in 2002. In addition to serving on the Kent School District Board, Agda is a Girl Scout leader and PTA leader.