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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    House Document No. 18

    Document Title
    Feasibility Study on the Implementation of a Teacher Career Ladder in the Commonwealth of Virginia
    (HJR 1, 2014)

    Department of Education

    Enabling Authority
    HJR 1 (Regular Session, 2014)

    Executive Summary
    The 2014 Virginia General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution 1 (see Appendix A), which requested that the Virginia Department of Education study the feasibility of implementing a Teacher Career Ladder program in the Commonwealth. In conducting the study, the Department was to consider the implementation of such programs in other states and make recommendations regarding the implementation of such a program in the Commonwealth, specifically related to (i) the number of levels, or "rungs," in the program; (ii) the various performance markers, including student growth indicators and teacher evaluations, that may be used to assess teacher performance; (iii) the bonus pay and other opportunities that teachers may earn; (iv) ways in which the Teacher Career Ladder program can reinforce individualized student growth through high-performing, individualized teaching; (v) the potential fiscal impact of such programs on the state and localities; (vi) the impact of such programs on the competitiveness of teacher pay in Virginia compared to other states; (vii) the impact of career ladders on the hiring and retention of teachers; and (viii) the teacher professional development that may or may not be needed to support a career ladder system.

    In an effort to define more precisely the concept of a career ladder, a stakeholder group convened for the purpose of providing input in the feasibility study on the implementation of a Teacher Career Ladder in the Commonwealth accepted the following working definition of career pathways and professional advancement for teachers as outlined in a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Education entitled "A Blueprint for R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching: (*1)

    [Career pathways and professional advancement] offer teachers satisfying career paths, avenues that allow them to take on significant roles and responsibilities and earn higher salaries without leaving the classrooms they love. Teachers long for opportunities that recognize their talents and allow them to contribute to transforming their schools into more effective centers for learning. Moreover, teachers who may have interest in moving to an administrative role would benefit from avenues that allow them to cultivate their skills over time while still serving as effective teachers."

    In addition to gathering input from the stakeholder group, a thorough review of Teacher Career Ladder programs in eight states and the District of Columbia was conducted:

    • The Arizona Career Ladder Program;

    • The District of Columbia Public Schools’ Leadership Initiative For Teachers (LIFT);

    • Georgia’s Proposed Career Ladder Framework;

    • The Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation System;

    • The Missouri Career Ladder Program; and

    • The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), Implementing the TAP System – Teacher and Student Advancement Program – in Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas.

    The study found that some aspects of the components typically found in a Teacher Career Ladder program are already in practice, to a degree, in Virginia, including teacher licensure designations for career teachers, mentor teachers, and teacher leaders; Board of Education "Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers;" and various incentive and recognition programs for educators. Stakeholders’ greatest concerns in implementing a career ladder program were that (1) there is limited research that statewide Teacher Career Ladders succeed in recruiting and retaining teachers or in improving student achievement; (2) average base salaries for teachers in Virginia are below the national average and need to be competitive before a career ladder program is considered; and (3) sufficient and sustainable state funding that is part of "Standards of Quality" funding must be available for such an initiative. If sustainable state funding were guaranteed, the group felt the implementation of a Teacher Career Ladder or a similar concept such as a career tree or career lattice might be feasible once teacher salaries are competitive.

    Based on practices described in other states’ Teacher Career Ladders and the input from the stakeholder group, a number of recommendations are offered:


    • Sufficient and sustainable funding must be available in order to make a Teacher Career Ladder an attractive and effective hiring and retention tool. Consideration must be given to incorporating funding into the Standards of Quality so that it is protected and does not come and go with each legislative session. Additionally, the initiative should receive full funding from the General Assembly, without requiring a local match so all school divisions can participate equally.

    • In developing a funding formula to support a Teacher Career Ladder, the state should consider providing funding and/or relief not only to teachers but also to the division and state-level offices that would administer the program in terms of training, data collection, and decisions regarding bonus or incentive eligibility.


    • A Teacher Career Ladder should be offered to all schools and school divisions in the Commonwealth, not just to certain ones, such as those that are low-performing.

    • Participation in a Teacher Career Ladder should not be mandatory. Teachers should have the opportunity to opt in to the program if they are interested in opportunities for instructional (rather than administrative) advancement.

    • All teachers who are interested should be able to participate, not just those in certain subject areas (for example, STEM) or in certain schools (for example, hard-to-staff schools).

    • The number of teachers eligible for awards in a school division should not be limited. All teachers who meet the criteria should be rewarded.


    • Incentives for teachers should be awarded in the form of both money and leadership opportunities.

    • How funding may be used at the school division level should be flexible. Not all school divisions have the same needs, and opportunities and incentives that might be attractive in one school division may not be so in another. For example, one school division may prefer to award monetary bonuses, while another division may prefer to provide additional planning and/or collaboration time during the school day or reduced class size.

    Advancement on the Teacher Career Ladder

    • A Teacher Career Ladder should allow for both vertical and lateral movement to reflect more closely the career paths of today's work environment as well as intervening life situations for individuals, which may make it necessary to pause, take a step back, or move fluidly between designations without penalty or negative impression.

    • Advancement on a Teacher Career Ladder should be based on multiple criteria.

    Building on Current Virginia Practice

    Acknowledging that additional actions would be beneficial in elevating the teaching profession in the Commonwealth, the stakeholder group supported continuing or enhancing a number of programs, policies, and provisions that are in current practice in Virginia including:

    • Encouragement to school divisions to promote the three designations available on Virginia teaching licenses for career paths to teaching – Career Teacher, Mentor Teacher, and Teacher as Leader. Currently, the teaching licenses of only 547 active teachers out of approximately 96,000 teachers in the Commonwealth (0.6 percent) carry one of these designations – 326 Career Teacher designations, 123 Mentor Teacher designations, and 98 Teacher as Leader designations. School divisions could promote the licensure designations and assist teachers in acquiring the additional evidence and documentation required to earn the designation as a way to recognize the work of exemplary teachers. School divisions might then be able to use teachers with the career path designations to serve in leadership positions that provide additional support to other classroom teachers.

    • Use of the teacher performance standards and indicators outlined in the Board of Education’s Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers to identify exemplary teachers who can serve in teacher leadership roles in the school division. School divisions currently have the authority to establish their own career ladders if they wish; however, funding is a challenge. There are no state laws or regulations prohibiting such action.

    • Continued funding from the General Assembly to support and/or expand existing incentive programs for teachers such as:

    o Incentives for National Board Certified teachers, including consideration for additional funding to support the costs associated with the application process to become National Board Certified;

    The Virginia Middle School Teacher Corps (Mathematics);

    The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Teacher Recruitment and Retention Incentive Awards;

    The Virginia Teaching Scholarship Loan Program (VTSLP); and

    Mentoring Programs for Beginning Teachers.

    • The comprehensive model of professional development that was designed to provide technical assistance to teachers and administrators in the implementation of the new teacher and principal evaluation systems rolled out over a period of three years from 2011 to 2014.

    The stakeholders also recommended that the General Assembly find ways to limit the increasing number of requirements placed on teachers that require additional time and sometimes expense to pursue. In recent years, the following requirements have been placed on teachers by the General Assembly:

    • Teachers seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license must have training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and the use of automated external defibrillators.

    • Any individual licensed and endorsed to teach middle school civics or economics, or high school government or history who is seeking renewal of such license must demonstrate knowledge of Virginia history or state and local government.

    • Every teacher seeking initial licensure with an endorsement in the area of career and technical education shall have an industry certification in the area in which the teacher seeks endorsement.

    Lessons Learned from Other States

    Before embarking on a plan to implement a Teacher Career Ladder in the Commonwealth, it would be wise for Virginia to keep in mind the reasons that previous career ladder attempts in other states have been repealed or de-funded. In the 2013 report, "Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative, (*2) the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and the Center for Educator Effectiveness at Pearson identified the following reasons Teacher Career Ladders have not shown great long-term success:

    • Vague and sometimes controversial criteria for selecting expert teachers;

    • Little or no training or preparation for differentiated roles;

    • Ill-defined responsibilities for lead or master teachers;

    • Opportunities for advancement that were attractive to only a few teachers;

    • Short-term funding that ended when money ran out, and compensation that was minimal or non-existent for additional responsibility; and

    • Perceptions that career ladders were top-down policies with hierarchical structures imposed on teachers.
    (*1) United States Department of Education. (April 2013). A Blueprint for R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: Recognizing
    Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching,
    http://www2.ed.gov/documents/respect/blueprint-for-respect.pdf. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
    (*2) National Network of State Teachers of the Year and the Center for Educator Effectiveness at Pearson. (2013). "Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative, http://www.nnstoy.org/download/Final%20updated%20Research%20Report.pdf. Retrieved July 31, 2014.