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Promoting Quality Teaching: New Policy Report from Accomplished California Teachers

November 15, 2012

Following is the press release formally announcing the new publication from Accomplished California Teachers.  Inquiries may be sent via comments below or via the ACT website contact form.


STANFORD, CA — Approximately one-third of all new teachers in the United States leave the profession within five years, and veteran teachers are leaving at ever higher rates. Teacher attrition, which has grown by 50 percent in the past 15 years, costs the nation roughly $7 billion a year for recruiting, hiring, and inducting new teachers. With this revolving door of teachers and the resulting hemorrhage of resources, schools suffer from instability and students lose out on the opportunity to learn from high-quality teachers.

Among the factors behind this high turnover are outdated teacher compensation systems and narrow career options for professional growth, according to a new report by Accomplished California Teachers (ACT), a teacher-leadership network based at Stanford.

The report, Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways, is written by a group of master California teachers and draws from current research and best practices in the field to make recommendations on how to improve teaching quality by improving the systems that compensate them. This is the second report by ACT. The first addressed teacher evaluation.  [Download full report or brief]

Promoting Quality Teaching lays out a vision of teacher compensation systems and career pathways that will not only attract and retain teachers, but also enable them to become leaders in their field without removing them from schools and classrooms. Central to this vision is the creation of a “third-tier” teacher license, certifying those instructors who are highly effective to take on additional responsibilities for higher pay.

“In top-performing nations like Finland and Singapore, teachers are viewed as an investment, not as an expense,” said Barnett Berry, Founder and President of the Center for Teaching Quality. “That’s an attitude we must emulate if we are serious about preparing students for a global marketplace. In this report, Accomplished California Teachers offer practical, innovative ideas about making strategic investments in teachers’ professional growth and compensation. They also serve up solid suggestions about how to improve teacher career pathways in California, better tapping teachers’ expertise to help all students succeed.”

Currently, teacher pay is based primarily on years of service and continuing education, including advanced degrees. In recent years, pay-for-performance or merit-pay systems have been tried around the country—systems in which teachers are rewarded for student achievement, with achievement usually being measured by test scores.

The ACT report argues that neither system succeeds. And it offers a framework for professional growth and compensation that creates incentives for well-qualified individuals to enter the profession, continue to grow, and to share what they know so that the entire enterprise of education improves. This report can be used to inform policy at the state and district level to create thoughtful, research-based compensation systems that actually improve teaching.

The release of this report reinforces recommendations in the comprehensive teaching quality policy report, Greatness by Design, from California’s Educator Excellence Task Force. The report, which came out this summer, included recommendations and resources drawn from the draft ACT report.

“The Accomplished California Teachers report on teacher pay and career pathways is a well-researched, clearly written report,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “Its recommendations mirror those outlined in Greatness by Design, and these ideas can help us reach the goal of ensuring every California child has a great teacher.”

“This report outlines how career pathways for teachers can strengthen teaching in every classroom by supporting teacher development and systematically spreading expertise,” said Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who co-chaired the Educator Excellence Task Force with Long Beach Superintendent, Chris Steinhauser. “Together, these reports can be used to inform the critical policy California requires to educate all its children well.”

Key Recommendations

1) Create a career ladder that defines and compensates tiered levels of teaching expertise.
California should add a third-tier teacher license. Use improved evaluations to improve teaching practices and identify accomplished teachers. Instead of raising salaries based primarily on years of service, base compensation on a balance of experience, continuing learning, attainment of higher levels of practice and responsibility, and contributions to student and collegial learning.

2) Expand teachers’ roles and responsibilities.
Define specific, new and expanded roles for teachers, with opportunities for advancement and growing responsibility as they gain expertise. Create a teaching continuum to include flexible professional roles that will allow teachers to develop, spread their expertise, advance the profession, and improve student learning. Responsibilities should connect to curriculum, instruction, analysis of student learning, and teacher evaluation.

3) Develop a well-funded system fostering equity and quality.
Any policy addressing teacher pay must also address the very real inequities in school funding and teacher compensation in the state. Currently teachers in low-income districts, where the bulk of high-needs schools are found, are generally paid less than those in higher-income school districts. Policymakers must change school-funding formulas so that schools with the greatest challenges have adequate resources to recruit, retain, and continue the development of the highly skilled teachers they need. It will not be enough to simply level the field for compensation — teachers who work in the most demanding schools must be paid more. Such schools must also be made attractive to teachers willing to embrace difficult problems of practice and lead the way to solving them. Equalization and weighted-student funding approaches that send money to districts on an equitable basis, tied to pupil needs, can create a foundation for competitive and equitable salaries and improved working conditions.

4) Ensure steady, long-term funding to sustain a new compensation system.
Fewer and fewer college graduates are drawn to the teaching profession. This problem can be partially mitigated by creating the right working conditions and professional development opportunities. Likewise, a new system must be fully and reliably funded in order to stabilize the profession and improve the state’s teaching force. Teachers will not put their full faith and effort into a system that is not sustainable, nor would most stakeholders embrace a plan that would set off new battles over scarce funding.

5) Provide supports to bring high quality teachers to high-needs schools.
Offer teachers willing to work in the most challenging schools paid opportunities to develop the unique skills and problem-solving abilities needed in those settings. While it may be tempting to suppose that paying teachers more to work in high-needs schools might attract accomplished teachers, the reality is that teachers want to be successful as much as they want to be compensated for taking on large challenges. To be successful in a highly challenging environment requires skills and knowledge that are complex and constantly changing. For that reason, we suggest that a salary package for teachers in schools identified as the most needy should include release time and additional stipends earmarked for ongoing professional development related to the needs of the student population.

6) Take time for deliberation and collaboration.
Take time to engage all stakeholders in the design of a new system and pilot it carefully. Be willing to adapt it. Make it flexible enough to work in the full variety of conditions and needs across the state. Avoid one-dimensional, quick-fix approaches that fail to recognize the complexity of good professional practice. As vitally linked as teachers are to student success, new education policies must effectively addresses teacher evaluation, compensation, and career pathways.

About Accomplished California Teachers
Accomplished California Teachers (ACT) was formed in 2008 by expert teachers to bring their knowledge to bear on the pressing policy issues of their field. ACT’s mission is to present practitioner perspectives and expertise on a wide range of issues concerning teaching quality. ACT’s teachers have achieved distinction in a multitude of ways: as teachers of the year, national Milken award-winning educators, leaders in curriculum development and professional learning, teacher mentors and coaches, and as those who have gone through the rigorous certification process of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

What Others Are Saying

This report lays the foundation for us to collectively move the conversation about the teaching profession beyond merely getting rid of ‘bad’ teachers. We can strengthen the teaching profession by creating career ladders and lattices for practitioners; we need to encourage and compensate excellent teachers who remain in (or close to) the classroom, while allowing them to take on new responsibilities and expanded leadership roles to improve teaching and learning.

— Shannan Brown, President, San Juan Teachers Association; California Teacher of the Year (2011)

ACT correctly points out that most attempts at ‘reform’ in both teacher evaluation and alternative compensation schemes have failed because they have ignored the intricacy of the profession and what motivates teachers to continually improve their practice. They also understand that one cannot talk about the issue of teacher compensation in isolation — it is fundamentally connected to evaluation systems, to overall school funding, as well as to inequities that exist across school districts. Those of us with responsibility for public education can recognize that there is indeed a way forward — in which both sides of the political debate can agree — to improve teaching and learning in our schools while honoring and supporting the profession. I highly recommend ACT’s report as required reading for any public education official, employee, supporter, or even skeptic for informing the vital conversation about improving educational outcomes for all children.

— Seth Rosenblatt, President of the San Mateo County School Boards Association, President of the Governing Board of the San Carlos School District

At the very moment when California is faced with massive teacher retirements and has laid off 40,000 teachers, it is tempting to disregard the crying need for a change in teacher evaluation and compensation. Instead, this is the moment to strike while the iron is hot and to carefully consider the recommendations of Accomplished California Teachers in Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches to Compensation and Career Pathways. Sometimes it is in the darkest hour when great breakthroughs are possible. This is our moment. If you believe as I do that teaching is the most important job in America, then read this report and urge the Governor and the Legislature to move away from one dimensional solutions. I laud the report and the conclusions reached.

— Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent for Public Instruction

To truly improve instruction, we need to move beyond the overly simplistic systems and structures in today’s education system. Our largest opportunities lie in taking a more sophisticated approach to teacher evaluation, compensation, and career paths. I’m pleased that this report brings thoughtful recommendations in those areas and hope it jump starts the dialogue needed for positive change.

— Dana Tom, Trustee, Palo Alto Unified School District

Download full report or brief

For examples of California teachers, schools, and districts already taking promising steps towards expanded teacher leadership, see California Teacher Leader Profiles.



11 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    November 15, 2012 2:53 pm

    Another wonderful report about teachers and teaching, by teachers! Thanks David for all your hard work! Agree with the recommendations, especially about career ladder and expanding roles. If our profession doesn’t respond to the changing of the times, just how many people will continue to come into our profession?

  2. November 16, 2012 10:50 am

    I copied Number 5 into a Facebook post as this has been my suggestion for years. Having taught for 21 years in an inner city school that was tough, tough, tough, I knew there should be a different compensation policy for the really good teachers who stayed and had success than for those who taught in the high-end schools with students who would do well no matter what kind of teacher they had.

  3. Chris M permalink
    November 19, 2012 4:16 pm

    I hope this report will spur the much-needed conversation among policymakers and teachers. This will require our union to acknowledge the need for dialogue as well as those making decisions to listen to the teachers instead of stifling our concerns. As always ACT leads the way. The concept of the career ladder is especially appealing to me as site and district leader in my content. I would welcome the chance to step out of the classroom to provide others with assistance in their teaching. I also like Delaine Eastin’s comment about now is the time.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      November 20, 2012 10:48 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Chris. You’re exactly the type of teacher who participated in crafting recommendations for the report, and whose contributions we seek to maximize for the improvement of schools around the state. I hope you’ll help spread the word, and look forward to further dialogue.


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