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'Temporary' Calif. Teachers Fall Through Policy Cracks

At least a quarter of new teachers in California essentially fall through the cracks of the Golden State's teacher-induction, -tenure, and -evaluation systems, according to a recent report by SRI International, a nonprofit research organization.

These temporary teachers can be hired with one-time funds, or hired to replace those on leaves of absence, and have been popular with superintendents in tough budget times because of their flexibility. But they are not covered by regular layoff or re-employement rules, don't have to be evaluated annually, and don't start the two-year time period that leads to tenure. Perhaps most troubling, even though many California teachers enter the profession this way, they are often not served under the state's mandated induction program for new teachers, called Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment, or BTSA.

The report, by Julia Koppich, Daniel Humphrey, and several others, illustrates the ways that a set of policies designed to create a coordinated approach to entering the teaching profession can collide with competing policies and budget pressures.

"Policy grows by accretion, and we rarely look back and say, 'Do they fit together? Are they efficacious? Do they work?' We just keep adding on policies and changing regulations," Koppich said in an interview. "At some point in time, you have to step back and ask whether it still make senses for the people we serve now."

The report estimates that the number of first- to third-year teachers on temporary status in California had fallen to about 4,500 in 2010, from at least 14,000 in 1999. But the proportion of first- to third-year teachers had remained proportionally the same over this time period, about 25 percent. Also, there are probably more temporary teachers in all because the figures only represents the count as of Oct. 1 of each year, not any such teachers hired after that date.

California's teacher policies assume that teachers get a preliminary credential, have preliminary status, complete BTSA, earn tenure, and become permanent teachers in two years. But the report shows that, as of 2005, only 45 percent of third-year teachers had earned tenure (which is supposed to be granted after two years.) Earning tenure, the report states, "is neither a process [beginning teachers] understand nor a goal they believe they can achieve in the foreseeable future."

And because temporary teachers and substitutes aren't required to be evaluated, large numbers of beginning teachers get neither induction support nor formal observations during a crucial period in their careers, the report says.

BTSA, California's mandatory teacher-induction system, also suffers from some unintended consequences:

• Mentors in the BTSA aren't allowed to discuss the teachers they supervise with principals, and the five-year timeline means that some teachers don't go through it until after they've already been in the classroom for a while.
• Some teachers say BTSA is too paperwork-laden and repeats skills learned during preparation, rather than building on them.
• Temporary teachers who are not officially hired as preliminary teachers often cannot participate. Thus, when they do get hired in formal positions, BTSA can be a redundant exercise.
• Lawmakers eventually eliminated categorical funding for BTSA, leaving the program's requirement but allowing districts to use the funds for other things. While some districts have maintained strong programs, other districts have left teachers with the responsibility of picking up the cost of the program and finding a district or teacher college that would agree to provide an induction program that met the statutory requirements.

In all, the report calls on state policymakers to revisit policies around induction, temporary employment, BSTA, credentialing, and evaluation. Among other things, it says that the state should consider requiring districts to keep better counts of the number of temporary teachers; to prioritize induction for teachers in their first two years; and to require all teachers, regardless of employment status, to be supported and evaluated.

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