Teacher policy report discusses what makes for good teacher policy and which states still have work to do

teacher-policy-NCTQTeacher quality has been a hot, if polarizing, topic in education recently, with many states making what some perceive to be progressive steps in teacher policy. One new report gives grades to states in how well they’re implementing these teacher policies, from teacher preparation to dismissal.

The report, “State Teacher Policy Yearbook,” by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) provides an analysis of every state law, rule and regulation that “shapes the effectiveness of the teaching profession,” it says, from teacher preparation and evaluation, to compensation, professional development (PD) and dismissal policy.

According to the report, states in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, averaged an “improved” C- for their teacher policies in 2013, up from a grade of D+ in 2011 and D in 2009.

“The improvement in the state grades in this year’s [report] proves it is both possible and practical for states to drive teacher effectiveness through smart policies,” said Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ. “Many states once argued that implementing policies such as evaluations of teacher effectiveness, tying tenure and dismissal policies to student achievement, and raising the bar for teacher prep couldn’t be done. Now, these policies are on the books in increasing numbers of states across the nation, helping ensure that all children have effective teachers.

(Next page: The best and worst states; measures)

The five states that received the top scores, ranging from B+ to B-, are Florida (the highest-scoring in the nation), Louisiana, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The five states that received the worst scores, ranging from D to F are Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, and Montana (the worst-scoring in the nation).

Many of the policies that gave the top-scoring states an advantage are policies that are quickly gaining traction in states across the country:

  • Annual evaluations for all teachers: In 2013, 28 states require, without exception, annual evaluations of all teachers.
  • Significant use of student growth data in teacher evaluations: In 2013, 35 states require that student achievement is a significant—or most significant—factor in teacher evaluations (compared to just 4 states in 2009 and 17 states in 2011).
  • Tying teacher performance to tenure and other personnel policies: In 2009, not a single state awarded tenure based on “objective evidence of teacher effectiveness,” says the report; in 2013, 20 states now require this measure.
  • Dismissing ineffective teachers: 29 states now have in writing that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for a teacher’s dismissal, compared to just 13 states in 2009.
  • Factoring performance into layoffs: Today, 18 states are using performance information (rather than time on the job alone) to make better staffing decisions when, and if, layoffs become necessary, up from 11 states in 2011.

Many states are also placing higher expectations on what teachers need to know and are able to do before they are licensed to become teachers, explains the report.

For example, spurred by Common Core, 19 states now require elementary teacher candidates to pass subject-matter tests that separately measure adequate knowledge in each core subject they teach. Not one state had this requirement in 2009.

(Next page: Areas for improvement)

However, the report emphasizes that, in its opinion, most states still have a “long way to go” to ensure that new teachers are classroom-ready.

Areas that need improvement, says the report, are:

  • Nearly all states set a low academic bar for teachers: “Whether measured by a test or GPA, academic requirements established by states for admission to teacher preparation are weak or non-existent,” notes the report.
  • There is a significant early childhood licensing loophole: Only six states require prospective teachers to pass elementary content tests with separate scores for each subject.
  • Special education continues to be a broken area of teacher policy: 28 states still offer only a K-12 certification in special education, requiring no specialization by subject.
  • Teacher preparation programs lack accountability.

Another criticism of teacher policy across states is in their lack of action on policies aimed at recruiting and retaining the best teachers in the profession.

For instance, few states “compensate effective teacher for their accomplishments with students, many burden teachers with unnecessary coursework…that have little or no impact on teacher effectiveness, and not enough tailor [PD] and support to teacher performance results,” says the report.

For more information on NCTQ’s report, visit the Yearbook website, which provides national and state-specific reports, searchable access to the data, topical pages, a customized search tool, and options for generating graphic results that can be exported and shared.

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