June 13, 2013

Stop the churn: Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles members launch a toolkit for empowering and retaining great teachers

Teacher-Developed Recommendations Seek to Get Talent in the Door, Develop Them, and Keep Them in the Classroom

Los Angeles, June 13, 2013 – With 60% of Los Angeles public school teachers fleeing the classroom in less than five years, Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles (E4E-LA) members are issuing a set of recommendations to attract, develop, and keep great educators in the classroom. The recommendations are compiled in two separate policy papers that E4E members researched and wrote over the past several months and released today. The first paper, Building for the Future: A Toolbox for Attracting and Retaining Great Teachers in Hard-to-Staff Schools” provides a wide array of strategies for bringing in and keeping talent in the public school system. The second paper, STEP: A Career Pathway for Supporting Teachers as Empowered Professionals hones in on helping teachers advance in their careers, which studies have shown is critical to keeping them in the profession. E4E members also call out legislative and contractual barriers that would be obstacles to building a true career path for teachers. These include:

  1. Hiring and layoff policies that prevent principals from choosing the best fit for the mission, culture and goals of their school
  2. A binary rating system for evaluation that defines teachers as passing or failing, which prevents schools from identifying and leveraging their highest achieving teachers
  3. An inflexible compensation system that prevents schools from rewarding a teacher’s decision to teach and raise achievement at hard-to-staff schools.

“This team of teachers spent months researching and debating ideas for taking their classrooms and careers to new heights. They are precisely the kind of innovative and courageous minds we need to attract and retain in public education,” said Ama Nyamekye, Executive Director at Educators 4 Excellence-Los Angeles. “Our district can learn from the bold ideas of these teachers, who want to put new policies and practices in place that allow teachers to grow, achieve and advance alongside their students.”  

Two teams of teachers from 21 Los Angeles public schools developed the policy recommendations. Although they approached the issues from different angles, their core goals can be broken down into the following:

  1. Get Great Teachers in the Door
  2. Develop Them as Professionals
  3. Keep Them in the Classroom for the Long Haul

Get Great Teachers in the Door

A successful teaching career begins by finding the right match between educator and school. But far too often, hiring is a rushed process, with more than 10% of teachers hired after the first day of school and 16% of LAUSD educators in low income schools teaching outside their area of expertise. To improve hiring, E4E members propose:

  • A “Hiring Toolkit” that provides individual schools with a protocol for establishing hiring committees, guiding questions for teacher demo lessons and customizable rubrics for evaluating candidates
  • A package of financial and non-financial incentives for principals to work in high needs schools including more autonomy around hiring, curriculum and professional development.
  • Monetary awards for teachers in high need schools who not only accomplish significant gains with their students in hard-to-staff schools, but do so year after year
  • Changing state law to allow performance and other factors to be considered in hiring, tenure and layoff decisions.

“Leaving the hiring decision up to the school site is imperative,” said Laurie Walters, a 32-year veteran teacher on the Attracting and Retaining Teachers Policy Team. “Each school offers unique challenges and opportunities, and no one knows these better than the current staff.”

Develop Them as Professionals

Even when the right people have been brought into the classroom, schools must ensure they can continue to grow and develop in their careers. Both Policy Teams looked at how to create career pathways that provide teachers with high quality mentoring and professional development, meaningful evaluation and leadership opportunities in and outside of the classroom.

The Career Pathway Policy Team recommends creating a four-step pathway for teachers:

  1. Emerging Teacher
  2. Professional Teacher - 3 effective or 2 highly effective ratings
  3. Lead Teacher - 5 effective or 3 highly effective ratings
  4. Innovator Teacher - 7 effective, with at least 1 “highly effective” rating

At each point, teachers will be given the opportunity to shadow their more experienced peers and receive robust mentoring and school specific professional development.

Keep Them in the Classroom for the Long Haul

In LAUSD, the median career length at a school is less than three years and attrition from the profession in general is high – 1 out of 5 teachers will leave by year three, and 3 out of 5 by year five. Sadly, this is precisely the time when teachers are making their greatest leaps in effectiveness, causing the system to lose teachers just as they hit a critical turning point.

In order to keep them, E4E-LA Policy Team members recommend rewarding the strongest teachers for their achievements and recognizing their success with additional leadership opportunities. For example, Lead and Innovator teachers should be encouraged to take on roles that expand beyond their individual classrooms. This includes serving as inter-school coordinators to ensure a seamless transition for students across schools or applying for grants to create roles and programs for which they see a need.

The first step to implementing such a strategy is honing LAUSD’s multi-measured evaluation system to ensure it is accurate, consistent and captures the ambitions of LA’s finest educators. To say that 98% of teachers are “meeting expectations” is not enough. It is critical schools have the tools to identify those standout teachers and put them on the path to leading and mentoring their peers.

“Outstanding teaching positively affects countless students each year,” said Katherine Woodfield, high school math teacher at Lakeview Community Charter High School and member of the Career Pathways Policy Team. “However, the improvement is multiplied when those outstanding teachers are given the roles and responsibilities that have a broader impact.”

To inform these recommendations, the two teams studied successful models and state laws from across the country, incorporated recommendations from LAUSD and UTLA, and polled over 300 educators, both E4E-LA members and non-members.

To view the full reports, visit http://www.educators4excellence.org/teacher-policy-teams/issues-and-papers/la-career-pathways and http://www.educators4excellence.org/teacher-policy-teams/issues-and-papers/la-attracting-teachers.