Perkins Elementary School students practice their reading skills in the classroom. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This is my third year teaching, and I still struggle to organize a purposeful classroom. Every time I think about my 10th graders, I worry. If I had more experience, could I teach humanities better? If I had more strategies under my belt, could I do a better job of reaching English-learners? Or, if I had had more practice with Common Core, could I create stronger assessments? I love my job and my students, but deep down I hope that their next teacher is a seasoned ten-year veteran. In this era of education, I also know this isn’t likely.

California’s students are unlikely to have access to an experienced teacher for consecutive years. Many teachers quit early in their career and consequently, schools are scarce of seniority. Unsurprisingly, low-income communities are hit the hardest.

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In its 2016 report, “California State Plan to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators,” the state reported that one in seven teachers in low-income schools were inexperienced, compared with one in 10 in more affluent schools. Students in low-income schools often enter school behind in reading and math skills due to socioeconomic issues. They may be dealing with trauma or not enough food at home. That makes their schooling even more imperative.

Veteran teachers provide schools with a reliable base of knowledge that helps a school run on all cylinders. Their relationships with parents and the community are strong. As stewards of the building, they have a pulse on the culture. During a frantic morning copier jam, they know what to do. Veteran teachers have also lived out millions of unique classroom moments and know how to respond in a pinch. They know what to do if a student cries or if one isn’t showing up to class. They haven’t always seen it all, but they definitely have seen more than a new teacher.

Last month, the State Board of Education approved a new plan intended to give local districts more autonomy to fix the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not a plan that I as a teacher consider to be a strong one. Currently, the state requires local education agencies to self-report their teacher distribution levels in the esoteric Local Control Accountability Plan. The agencies then must outline a strategy for improvement. The California Department of Education will review their data and plans and then provide support as needed. Details about this convoluted process are unclear. What should this data look like? How can districts proactively prepare? What will support look like?

Here are some ways we can better address the issue:

Collect Granular Data

California’s Department of Education should more clearly outline the kind of data that districts should collect. Kentucky and New York currently collect data at the student level, so it’s very clear which students get which teachers. Schools should know if certain students are constantly learning from novice teachers. I wouldn’t want every doctor I visit to be a novice; why should students have to put up with it when it comes to their education? California’s current plan describes tracking the teachers that low-income and minority students get, but not English-learners or students with disabilities. Requiring these designations would be a strong starting point.

Ensure Data Transparency

Districts are now required to post their data and strategy on their yearly accountability plan, but this document is undecipherable to anyone except education wonks, and is certainly not digestible for parents and community members who deserve to be a part of the conversation. California should consider including teacher experience information on the California School Dashboard. Before parents choose a school, they deserve to know its stability and the stability of its teachers.

Convene Stakeholders

Arkansas currently convenes school administrators to dive into teacher distribution numbers. Similarly, California has announced that it will hold trainings for districts and provide individual feedback on plans, but this is not enough. We need to tackle the issue by examining the data with district leaders and union representatives, but most importantly with teachers and parents. Why do teachers stay or leave? What kind of teacher do parents want their students to have? Those closest to our students see things in a unique and valuable way, and can offer important insight.

Attract Experienced Teachers With Compensation

California can attract teachers to low- income schools with compensation. In the past, the state awarded national board-certified teachers $20,000 if they taught in high-priority schools for four consecutive years, but this program hasn’t been funded since 2013. Policymakers have too often responded to teacher shortages by enticing college graduates. Instead, we need to focus our attention on rewarding those who have dedicated their life to the noble pursuit of teaching.

We need to make hiring experienced teachers a top priority in California’s new era of education. All our students deserve this.

Andres Perez teaches 10th grade humanities at High Tech High Chula Vista. He is a California fellow at Teach Plus, which gives teachers a public policy platform. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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