New initiative for teacher development

New initiative for teacher development

(Calif.) School boards must prepare and adopt plans for how they will spend their share of a $500 million block grant aimed at boosting teacher competency, delivering an accounting of those expenses to the state in three years’ time.

The new regulations come as part of the budget deal reached last week between legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown, who designated the new block grant to provide any number of teacher training services, from professional development in new English, math and science curriculum to induction programs for those new to the job.

With a growing body of evidence showing that teachers are the largest in-school factor affecting student achievement, attention has turned in recent years to better preparing educators for the challenges they face in the classroom – and to improving the effectiveness of under-performing teachers as well.

With the roll-out of Common Core State Standards well underway and revenues projected to be billions more than anticipated, state lawmakers were successful in convincing Brown to agree to a significant increase in the budget for teacher training.

The money, according to the governor’s finance department, was taken from funding intended to pay down a backlog of mandate payments already owed to schools. As it is, districts will still receive a mandate payment of $3.2 billion, leaving the total amount owed by the state at $1.2 billion, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst reported.

All but $10 million of the new block grant for teacher training will be divvied up among school districts, county offices of education, charter and state special schools on a per-teacher basis. These agencies can choose to spend the funds on professional development, coaching and support services for teachers who are identified as needing improvement, as well as training educators to teach curriculum aligned to new English, math and science standards.

The money may also be used for “beginning teacher and administrator support and mentoring,” according to budget language, “including, but not limited to, programs that support new teacher and administrator ability to teach or lead effectively and to meet induction requirements adopted by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing…”

Induction programs have long been considered a critical support for teachers in their first years on the job. Typically the programs are based on individualized mentoring from more experienced educators and more time in classrooms to observe exemplary instruction techniques.

Except in rare cases, newly-minted teachers are required to complete an accredited teacher induction program within five years to advance to a professional credential.

Since the early 1990s, the Legislature has dedicated special funding for the state’s induction program, Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program or BTSA.

That changed in 2009 with the onset of the recession when the Legislature gave LEAs flexibility over the BTSA money. Two years later, Brown pushed the Local Control Funding Formula into law and eliminated almost all categorical funding altogether.

As a result, LEAs have approached induction in a variety of ways. Some have maintained their programs and paid for them out of the LCFF money. Some have put the burden on the new teachers, charging them for participation while others have chosen to stop offering the training altogether.

The responsibility for completing the training, however, remains on new teachers.

A bill currently moving through the Legislature would require districts to provide and pay the costs of an induction program for new teachers, which can cost as much as $5,000 per individual. AB 141 by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, has already been approved by the lower house and is being reviewed in the Senate.

With some 300,000 credentialed teachers in the state, a rough calculation would indicate a one-time award of roughly $1,600 each to be spread out over three years.

As a condition of receiving the funds, LEAs must develop a spending plan that is presented at least once during a public school board meeting and adopted at a subsequent meeting. Districts are then required to submit no later than July 1, 2018, to the California Department of Education an expense report detailing specific purchases as well as the number of teachers, administrators and/or paraprofessionals who received appropriate training.

The remaining $10 million goes to the K-12 High Speed Network to provide training and technical assistance to LEAs related to network management. The HSN may partner with county offices of education or other LEAs to offer statewide access to training materials and resources.

These services must “include training of LEA staff, and development and distribution of best practices, guidance and other elements of technical support to implement network infrastructure within schools and to provide school districts with useful information for optimal decisions,” the budget language states.

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