It’s Time to Bring Back BTSA

The Learning Policy Institute reports that 88% of California’s demand for new teachers is driven by teacher attrition, and that teachers without mentoring leave at twice the rate as teachers who receive regular mentoring.  So what are we, as a state, doing about it?  Nothing. Meanwhile, we’re spending tens of millions of dollars each year to entice more college students into the teaching profession.  LPI’s data show that focusing only on the supply side of the teacher shortage is a solution to less than half of the problem.

California used to have a highly effective new teacher induction program in the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, which is arguably the most robustly researched (both before and after its enactment) K-12 categorical program in California history. It had a positive effect in two critical areas:  teacher retention and teacher quality.

Unfortunately, BTSA was eliminated with the enactment of the local control funding formula, although beginning teachers are still required to undergo induction.  Even before that, it fell victim to categorical program funding flexibility, which gave local school districts the ability to shift funding into or away from specified categorical programs.  According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, 55% of districts shifted money away from BTSA and 10% eliminated the program altogether.

This, despite the fact that research, such as this study by the Educational Research Service, found positive returns from investments in the program.  The biggest monetary benefit to districts is through the improved retention of beginning teachers.  This reduces the costs of new teacher recruitment and orientation.  The biggest nonmonetary benefit is improved classroom instruction.  This is no small matter in an era of heightened accountability.

But the benefits of BTSA also accrue to the state by helping to alleviate the seemingly intractable teacher shortage.  Over the last several years the Legislature has attempted to address this problem by getting more teachers in the pipeline.  Efforts include providing financial assistance to would-be teachers. Governor Newsom is now proposing to spend $89.8 million (one-time) to provide incentives for newly credentialed teachers to work in high-need schools for at least four years.  However, this does nothing to increase the number of credentialed teachers, and it just shifts the shortage from one set of districts to another.

Meanwhile, it’s worth repeating that the Learning Policy Institute reports that 88% of the demand for new teachers is driven by teacher attrition, and that teachers without mentoring leave at twice the rate as teachers who receive regular mentoring. We’ve also known for some time that attrition is highest among teachers in their first five years, and we’ve learned from our own experience that BTSA significantly reduces attrition among beginning teachers.  

So, this should be a no-brainer, right?  By investing in BTSA we can address a root cause of the teacher shortage and get the added benefit of improved classroom instruction.  The only argument against restoring BTSA as a state-funded categorical program is that it violates the principle of subsidiarity that is enshrined in the local control funding formula.  

That’s a weak argument. We all accept that local control has its limits.  We do not leave it up to local districts to make decisions about most things where there is a state or compelling interest at stake.  I argue that the teacher shortage is a state problem that demands a state solution.  We cannot leave it up to local decision making.  We already know from the experience with categorial program flexibility that, when given the chance, most districts will disinvest in BTSA.  That’s because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do with local decision making: address their highest local—and not state—priorities.  Because addressing the teacher shortage is a critical state need, it should be addressed with a state-funded solution. It’s time to restore BTSA as a state-funded categorical program.