Future of Teaching

Licensing panel finishes work; divisions remain

Lawmakers working on teacher licensing legislation finally got some formal – but mixed – advice from a panel that’s been studying the issue since early August.

Sen. Mike Johnston makes a point during LEAD Compact discussion.
Sen. Mike Johnston makes a point during LEAD Compact discussion.

Members of the group, formally known as the LEAD Compact, wrapped up their work this week during two days of meetings in Keystone, with many of the concerns and differences that surfaced at the start last summer still on the table as the snow fell outside the conference room.

The key question that’s divided compact members has been whether teacher ratings given under the new educator evaluation system should be used as factors in license renewal.

The group voted Tuesday on a summary of its discussions (it can’t really be called a “proposal”). The document includes limited us of teacher evaluations, specifically if a teacher chose to move from a professional to a master license. Seeking a master license would be optional, so a teacher could remain at professional status for an entire career.

Members (about two dozen of the 35 members attended the final meeting) signaled their views about sections of the document by raising colored paddles – green for agreement, yellow for basic agreement with questions or suggestions and red for unable to support.

On some of the more sensitive sections a third or more of paddles showed yellow or red.

The green-yellow-red exercise marked the end of a debate that’s been prolonged and that has stalled at times as members of the group struggled to reconcile opposing views about a variety of issues related to teacher preparation, support, professional development and licensing.

It wasn’t intended that the group come up with a concrete proposal for possible legislation. Rather, the panel was designed to be a forum for discussion on licensing after Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, pulled the plug on a licensing bill he’d thought about introducing during the 2013 legislative session.

That draft, which included a link between license renewal and evaluation results, had sparked considerable anxiety in segments of the education community.

Do your homework

In political terms, it was hoped the compact would reach shared views on at least some teacher preparation and licensing issues, potentially reducing the level of conflict and lobbying should a licensing bill be introduced during the 2014 legislative session. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

The group’s members included a wide variety of people representing mainline education interest groups, reform-oriented organizations, teacher prep programs and higher education, plus teachers, principals, other administrators and legislators. The panel was created by Johnston and Gov. John Hickenlooper, funded by the Donnell-Kay and Rose Community foundations and staffed by facilitators from the Keystone Center.

While some members made it clear they still have concerns, Johnston was upbeat about the process, calling it “a really great testimony to what happens when you bring good people together.” He added that he has “a real sense of accomplishment” about the compact’s work. “We’re in a much different place than we could have imagined” and have much more agreement than might have been expected at the start, he said.

In areas where the group didn’t substantially agree, “That leaves us to solve the problems,” Johnston said, referring to himself and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, his likely cosponsor on any licensing legislative next year.

“We were trying to listen to what we heard from you all over the last several months,” Hamner said.

Use of evaluation in licensing – even in a limited form – is likely to remain a sticking point.

“The message is pretty clear from the field – no connection with Senate Bill 191 whatsoever,” observed compact member Michael Clough, superintendent of the Sheridan schools. (SB 10-191 is the law that created the new annual evaluation standards being rolled out statewide this year.)

Groups like the Colorado Education Association, Colorado Association of School Boards and Colorado Association of School Executives are among those concerned about such a linkage because their members feel the new evaluation system is untested and wasn’t designed to be used for licensing decisions.

“There are plenty of parts of this [document] that I don’t like either,” Johnston said. “We’re at the stage now where it gets passed to Millie and me.”

Details on three proposed licenses

The suggested new system outlined in the compact’s document would include three types of licenses – initial, professional and master. Here are the details:

Initial – A prospective teacher could earn this license by completing a university teacher preparation program, a teacher residency program or an approved alternative prep program. The proposal also would create a fourth pathway, called “alternative 2,” under which a candidate for a “hard to staff” or rural teaching job could get a license with a bachelor’s degree, a background check and passage of a test or other demonstration of content knowledge. Such a license would be good for three years. Some compact members are uncomfortable with the alternative 2 idea.

Professional – A teacher with an initial license could advance to professional by successfully completing three years of professional development as directed by the teacher’s evaluations or by a passing score on the new edTPA test. (See this EdWeek article for more details on that test.)

Master – This new license would be optional. A teacher could earn it by having three years of “highly effective” ratings under the SB 10-191 system or by having three years of “effective ratings” and passing the edTPA test or becoming a nationally board certified teacher. Becoming a master teacher would make a person eligible for various career opportunities such as becoming a mentor teacher.

In no case would evaluations be used for license revocation.

The current state system includes emergency, initial and professional licenses, with different qualifications.

The group also was polled on several less-detailed proposals related to teacher preparation programs, professional development, data gathering and other issues.

Tuesday’s final compact session produced a brief surprise, supplied by former Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster, a compact member who recently resigned her seat to avoid a recall.

Hudak wondered why the group wasn’t discussing the issue of charter school teachers, who don’t necessarily have to be licensed.

“Either you believe licensure is important for quality or you don’t,” she said.

“This is obviously a new issue,” said facilitator Janesse Brewer, looking a bit taken aback.

“I always appreciate the senator raising questions like that,” Hamner said calmly. “I’m not sure if I want to reopen charter school law.”

That ended that discussion.

Town Hall

Hopson promises more flexibility as Memphis school leaders clear the air with teachers on new curriculum

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson answers questions from Memphis teachers at a town hall hosted by United Education Association of Shelby County on Monday.

The Shelby County Schools superintendent told passionate teachers at a union town hall Monday that they can expect more flexibility in how they teach the district’s newest curriculums.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the teachers who score highest on their evaluations should not feel like they need to read from a script to meet district requirements, although he didn’t have an immediate answer to how that would work.

Teacher frustrations were reaching a boiling point on district curriculums introduced this school year. Although the state requirements have changed several times over the last eight years, this change was particularly bothersome to teachers because they feel they are teaching to a “script.”

“Teachers have to be given the autonomy,” Hopson said. Although he cited the need for the district to have some control as teachers are learning, “at the end of the day, if you’re a level 4 or level 5 teacher, and you know your students, there needs to be some flexibility.”

Vocal teachers at the meeting cited check-ins from central office staff as evidence of the overreach.

“I keep hearing people say it’s supplemental but we have people coming into my room making sure we’re following it to a T,” said Amy Dixon a teacher at Snowden School. “We’re expected to follow it … like a script.”

The 90-minute meeting sponsored by the United Education Association of Shelby County drew a crowd of about 100 people to talk about curriculum and what Hopson called “a culture of fear” throughout the district of making a mistake.

Hopson said his team is still working on how to strike the right balance between creativity and continuity across nearly 150 district-run schools because so many students move during the school year.

He reassured despondent teachers he would come up with a plan to meet the needs of teachers and keep curriculums consistent. He said some continuity is needed across schools because many students move a lot during the school year.

“We know we got to make sure that I’m coming from Binghampton and going over to Whitehaven it’s got to be at least somewhat aligned,” he said. “I wish we were a stable, middle-class, not the poorest city in the country, then we wouldn’t have a lot of these issues.”

Ever since Tennessee’s largest district began phasing in parts of an English curriculum called Expeditionary Learning, teachers have complained of being micromanaged, instead of being able to tailor content for their students. The same goes for the new math curriculum Eureka Math.

The district’s changes are meant to line it up with the state. Tennessee’s new language arts and math standards replaced the Common Core curriculum, but in fact, did not deviate much when the final version was released last fall. This is the third change in eight years to state education requirements.

Still, Shelby County Schools cannot fully switch to the new curriculums until they are approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. District leaders hope both curriculums, which received high marks from a national group that measures curriculum alignment to Common Core, will be added when textbooks are vetted for the 2019-20 school year.

Some urged educators to not think of the new curriculums as “scripts,” and admitted to poorly communicating the changes to teachers.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Pam Harris-Giles

“It’s not an expectation that we stand in front of our children and read off a piece of paper,” said Pam Harris-Giles, one of the district’s instructional support directors, who helps coordinate curriculum training and professional development.

Fredricka Vaughn, a teacher at Kirby High School, said that won’t be easy without clear communication of what flexibility will look like for high-performing teachers.

“If you don’t want us to use the word script, then bring back the autonomy,” she said.

Hopson stressed that the state’s largest school district could be a model for public education if everyone can work together to make the new curriculums work.

“It’s going to take work, hard work, everyone aligned from the top, everyone rowing in the same direction.”

Price of entry

Becoming a Colorado teacher could soon require fewer transcripts, more training on English learners

Stephanie Wujek teaches science at Wiggins Middle School , on April 5, 2017 in Wiggins, Colorado. Rural areas are having a hard time finding teachers in areas like math and science. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

The rules for becoming a teacher in Colorado are about to change — and officials hope the moves will help attract more math teachers and better prepare educators to work with students learning English.

The changes, which the Colorado Department of Education proposed this week, would also cut down on the paperwork needed to enter the profession and make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to re-enter the classroom after they move to Colorado.

The package of changes also includes a slimmed-down teacher evaluation rubric, the first major revision to the rules under Colorado’s 2010 teacher effectiveness law.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Less paperwork for new teachers. Applicants for a teaching license would no longer have to provide transcripts for every school they attended, only the transcripts for the school that granted them their highest degree. (Many colleges hold transcripts hostage for unpaid debt, even minor ones like unpaid parking tickets.
  • Less paperwork for teachers coming from other states. Experienced, licensed teachers from outside Colorado would no longer need to provide transcripts or prove that their teacher preparation program met Colorado standards.
  • More flexibility about previous teaching experience. Licensed teachers from other states would no longer need to have previously worked under a full-time contract to qualify for a Colorado license.
  • A new credential limited to middle-school math. Right now, Colorado only has a secondary math endorsement, which requires competency in trigonometry and calculus. That’s a barrier for teachers moving from other states with a math endorsement limited to middle school, and some see it as a roadblock for those who feel comfortable with algebra but not higher-level math.
  • Additional pathways for counselors and nurses to get licensed to work in schools.

Two bills making their way through the Colorado General Assembly this session would remove another barrier for out-of-state teachers. To qualify for a Colorado license today, teachers must have had three years of continuous teaching experience. If those bills are signed into law, applicants would only need three years of experience in the previous seven years.

Together, the proposals indicate how Colorado officials are working to make it a little easier to become a teacher in the state, which is facing a shortage in math teachers, counselors, and school nurses, among other specialties, as well as a shortage in many rural districts.

Colleen O’Neil, executive director of educator talent for the Colorado Department of Education, said many of the proposed changes came out of listening sessions focused on the state’s teacher shortage held around the state.  

The changes still don’t mean that if you’re a teacher anywhere in the country, you can easily become a teacher in Colorado. Just six states have full reciprocity, meaning anyone with a license from another state can teach with no additional requirements, according to the Education Commission of the States. Teachers whose licenses and endorsements don’t have a direct equivalent in Colorado would still need to apply for an interim license and then work to meet the standards of the appropriate Colorado license or endorsement.

The rule changes also add some requirements. Among those changes:

  • Prospective teachers will need more training on how to work with students learning English. Most significantly, all educator preparation programs would have to include six semester hours or 90 clock hours of training.
  • So will teachers renewing their licenses. They will need 45 clock hours, though the requirement wouldn’t kick in until the first full five-year cycle after the teacher’s most recent renewal. A teacher who just got her license renewed this year would have nine years to complete that additional training, as the requirement wouldn’t apply until the next renewal cycle. Superintendents in districts where less than 2 percent of the students are English language learners could apply for a waiver.

Colorado’s educator preparation rules already call for specialized training for teaching English language learners, but the rule change makes the requirements more explicit.

“We’re the sixth-largest state for English language learners,” O’Neil said. “We want to make sure our educators are equipped to teach all our learners.”

The rule changes would also “streamline,” in O’Neil’s words, the teacher evaluation process. Here’s what would change:

  • The five teacher quality standards would become four. “Reflection” and “leadership” are combined into “professionalism.”
  • The underlying elements of those standards would be reduced, too. Twenty-seven elements would become 17.

Fifty school districts and one charter collaborative have been testing the new evaluation system this year in a pilot program. O’Neil said most of the feedback has been positive, and the rest of the feedback has been to urge officials to winnow down the standards even further. That’s not a change she would support, O’Neil said.

“The reality is that teaching actually is rocket science,” she said. “There are a lot of practices and elements that go into good teaching.”

The state is accepting additional public comment on the rules until April 20, and a public hearing will be held in May. The new rules are expected to be adopted this summer.

Submit written feedback online or send an email to the State Board of Education at state.board@cde.state.co.us.