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Center for Future of Teaching and Learning Examines The Status of Teaching in California

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 12/14/09

New Report Examines Mismatch Between Changing Needs of Reforming High Schools and Systems of Teacher Development and Support

Faced with increasing demands to help more students succeed in college and the workplace, many California high schools are engaged in ambitious efforts to increase academic rigor, make instruction more relevant, and create learning environments that are more personal and supportive. But many teachers lack the preparation, skills and support needed to help students and fulfill the demands of the state's reforming high schools, according to a new report released today by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.


"The 3R's of reforming high schools -- rigor, relevance and relationships -- set a high bar for teachers and principals alike and have implications for teacher preparation, professional development and the ways in which high schools are organized," sayid Margaret Gaston, Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. "But there is a mismatch between the needs of these high school teachers and the state's systems of teacher preparation and support."

While many teachers have the expertise they need to succeed in California's reforming high schools, data from a new survey of high school principals commissioned by the Center and conducted by SRI International finds that nearly all schools have some teachers who lack knowledge or skills in areas now considered key for success in college and the workplace. For example, just 68 percent of California high school principals reported that a substantial majority (two-thirds) of their teachers had the pedagogical skills to promote critical thinking and problem solving, or the interpersonal skills needed to connect with students.

The research also finds that teacher knowledge and skills differ substantially by school poverty level. Principals in affluent schools were more likely than those in less affluent schools to report that their teachers had the knowledge and skills needed to implement reform strategies. For example, 78 percent of principals in the state's most affluent high schools reported that a substantial majority of their teachers have the pedagogical skills to promote students' critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. By comparison, just 48 percent of principals in the state's least affluent schools said their teachers had those skills.

"California's poorest communities are where reforms are most urgently needed, but they are also where teachers are likely to be the least prepared or supported to deliver what their students need," says Gaston.

These and other findings are detailed inThe Status of the Teaching Profession 2009,the latest in a decade-long series of annual examinations of California's teaching workforce produced by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning with research conducted by SRI International.In addition to the latest available data on the supply, qualifications and distribution of the state's teaching workforce, this year's report focuses on what is happening in high schools and examines the capacity of the teaching workforce and systems of teacher development to meet increasing demands. The report includes the results and analysis of a new statewide survey of high school principals, case studies of a sample of reforming high schools, and additional background research on education policy and practice.

The new report finds that California's teacher development system is not adequately aligned with high school reforms that seek to increase rigor, make school more relevant and foster more personal and supportive learning environments for students. Teachers who come to reforming high schools without the preparation they need find it difficult to handle the complexities of the new programs and, for new teachers, induction programs are not able to provide adequate support throughout the first and often the most difficult years of teaching. School principals struggle to recruit, hire and retain teachers needed to carry out reforms and note the lack of fit between the professional development teachers receive and what is needed to develop the collaboration and communication skills required for success in changing high schools. Further, what progress has been made in professional development and cohesive staffing may be undermined by budget cuts and teacher layoffs.

"Teacher development in California has not kept pace with increasing expectations for students and demands on teachers," said Patrick Shields,Director of the Center for Education Policy at SRI International."If the state wants to produce more high school graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and the workforce, California needs to createthe capacity to recruit, train and support teachers in ways that ensure they have the skills and knowledge needed to implement these strategies. Unfortunately, at a time we should be strengthening the capacity of teachers, teacher development is threatened by additional budget cuts."

While revealing weaknesses in the teacher development system, case studies in the report highlight school-level efforts to build closer alignment between the demands of reforms and the knowledge and skills of teachers. These efforts could serve as models to other educators and to policymakers. For example, some schools have adopted recruitment and hiring practices that produce a better match between job candidates and open teaching assignments, crafted professional development programs that provide reform-specific supports and learning opportunities, or partnered with local teacher preparation programs to better support new teachers.

In addition to its analysis of high school teaching,The Status of the Teaching Profession 2009examines the supply, demand and distribution of California's teaching workforce. California has made significant progress in reducing the number of underprepared teachersfrom over 42,000 at the beginning of the decade to under 11,000 in 2008--09. Across the K-12 system, the percentage of underprepared teachers is highest in high schools, where 5% of teachers are underprepared. While fewer students face underprepared teachers, those in the lowest-achieving schools remain much more likely to have underprepared teachers. In California high schools serving mostly Latino and African-American students, students are six times more likely to face an underprepared teacher as their peers in schools with few minority students.

The report also documents a weakened teacher pipeline.The teaching workforce is shrinking slightly, but the supply offuture teachers may not be sufficiently robust to replace teachers likely to retire in the next few years. Nearly 100,000 teachers are age 50 or older, but the number of candidates enrolling in teacher preparation programs has declined by one third in recent years, from over 77,000 in 2001-02 to under 52,000 in 2006-07. The production of teacher credentials mirrors that decline.

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John McDonald is a writer and consultant in Los Angeles.

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