A report by the not-for-profit, non-partisan National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) finds that Connecticut’s policies for new teachers are severely lacking. NCTQ’s 2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook looked at three areas of state policy that impact new teachers. Connecticut earned the following grades, earning the state an overall grade of D+:
• Identifying Effective New Teachers – D+
• Retaining Effective New Teachers – D
• Exiting Ineffective New Teachers – C
NCTQ President Kate Walsh said, “The third through fifth years of teaching represent an opportunity lost for teacher quality. That’s certainly when teachers begin to add real value, and it’s also when they tend to make decisions about staying or leaving. Connecticut can help districts do much more to ensure that the right teachers stay and the right teachers leave.”
Walsh continued: “Many states argue that their school accountability systems nullify the need to intervene, and that setting the sort of requirements that would lead to better decision making about teachers would be overstepping their role. Such arguments hold little sway, as states already intervene substantially on teacher issues, they just don’t do so productively. Further, states should not overlook their responsibility to ensure that all students—especially children in poverty –have quality teachers. Every problem hasn’t been solved simply because states see a few upticks in their test scores. “Even if there were only one classroom of children in an entire state that was ill served by a teacher, states have an obligation to those children.”
While school districts are certainly key players in shaping the quality of their own teaching force, the public may not fully appreciate the considerable and increasingly critical role played by states. Without exception, state laws and regulations touch upon every aspect of the teaching profession, having a measurable impact on the quality of new teachers.
Among the findings about Connecticut:
• Although Connecticut controls how and when its local school districts may award teachers tenure, it does not require districts to collect any evidence of teacher effectiveness as part of that determination.
• Connecticut only requires its school districts to evaluate new teachers once a year, which provides insufficient information about new teachers’ performance.
• Connecticut’s pay and benefit policies for teachers—including the state-run retirement system—disadvantage newer teachers, offering inadequate incentives to stay in teaching.
• Connecticut requires teachers to earn a master’s degree to maintain a valid teaching license, despite extensive research that shows these degrees do not improve classroom performance.
Despite these findings, Connecticut has some bright spots, including its efforts to close loopholes that allow teachers who have not met licensure requirements to continue teaching.
Another National Council on Teacher Quality report on how teachers are attracted, developed and retained in Connecticut’s capital city, concluding that Hartford’s current policies regarding teachers hinder the district’s top priorities to raise student achievement and narrow Connecticut’s worst_in_the_nation achievement gap.
The 60_page report focuses on four areas: 1) compensation; 2) transfer and assignment; 3) work life and school climate; and 4) developing effective teachers and exiting ineffective teachers. It concludes that, despite recent headway, Hartford’s staffing policies and contractual provisions do not go far enough in supporting Hartford’s ambitious “All_ Choice” school turnaround plan.
Among the most important findings in the report are these: Starting salaries are lower for Hartford teachers than in any of the five neighboring districts.
The district is spending nearly $18 million a year to incentivize teachers to earn advanced degrees, though the research is conclusive that the vast majority of these degrees do not make teachers more effective or increase student learning.
The first stage of Hartford’s hiring process is cumbersome, poorly timed and not conducive to attracting the greatest talent.
The teacher contractual work day in Hartford is among the shortest in the nation.
Hartford teachers have twice as much sick leave__20 days per year__as the average in the country, which is 10 per year.
_The teacher contract imposes unnecessary restraints on school operations, particularly after_school meetings.
New teachers are not currently receiving effective support.
Evaluation systems are broken: tenured teachers never have to be observed;
91% of nontenured teachers and 97% of all tenured teachers are ranked as competent or above, in spite of very low student achievement.
Tenure, essentially a district’s $2 million lifetime commitment to a teacher, is awarded automatically with little consideration for the magnitude of the decision or a teacher’s classroom effectiveness.
“Working to staff every classroom with an effective teacher is the most important function of any school district,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ President. “That means putting in place smart policies that work relentlessly towards that goal.”
“The first step in this process involves a candid conversation,” Walsh continued. “We believe we have provided a strong and credible analysis that should serve as a platform for real change, change that is in the best interest of Hartford school children.”
“As the capital city in the state with the nation’s largest achievement gap, we must leave no stone unturned in the effort to turn around Hartford’s public schools,” said Alex Johnston, ConnCAN CEO. “That means taking a hard look at Hartford’s human capital policies and making smart decisions about how to hire, retain and compensate teachers. We are very fortunate that the National Council on Teacher Quality is helping lead the way with quality research.”
NCTQ’s recommendations for specific action include:
• Give principals more freedom in choosing who they interview and hire and give teachers more freedom to apply for vacancies.
• Begin to lengthen the teacher work day from 6 hours 45 minutes towards a goal of 8 hours per day.
• Reduce the annual number of sick leave days from 20 to 10, a move which would require the Connecticut legislature to rescind among the most generous teacher leave policies in the nation.
• Gradually eliminate the incentives for teachers to earn master’s degrees outside a content area; dedicate savings to raising starting salaries or to funding a new national model of intensive new teacher support.
The National Council on Teacher Quality undertook this study in pursuit of the interests of Hartford public school students. It received no local dollars, either from the Hartford Public Schools, the Hartford Federation of Teachers or ConnCAN. Both HPS and HFT were asked to participate in interviews and were given a draft copy of the analysis to comment upon. HFT declined to participate.