Lauren Hill, a language arts teacher at Western Hills High School (Franklin County), is helping the Kentucky Department of Education develop a plan to ensure all students have access to qualified, experienced teachers. Photo by Amy Wallot, April 15, 2015

Lauren Hill, a language arts teacher at Western Hills High School (Franklin County), is helping the Kentucky Department of Education develop a plan to ensure all students have access to qualified, experienced teachers. Photo by Amy Wallot, April 15, 2015

By Brenna R. Kelly

Lauren Hill teaches AP English Language and Composition to nearly 100 motivated, engaged juniors at Western Hills High School.

“I’m totally specialized in this AP language class,” said Hill, who has been teaching for 24 years, the last 18 in Franklin County.  “I’m good at it. I get good results.”

Hill believes every student deserves a highly qualified teacher. But with high teacher turnover and limited staffing, statistics show that students in Kentucky’s high poverty, high minority or low performing schools are more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers.

“We have a problem,” Hill said, “How do we get every kid an effective, passionate teacher? I don’t have all the answers, but I know it has to happen.”

That’s why Hill is part of a Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) committee working to come up with the answers. KDE is drafting a plan to combat teacher turnover and ensure that all Kentucky students are taught by effective, qualified teachers.  The plan, required by the United States Department of Education (USED), will suggest district’s use evidence-based strategies ensure students have equal access to effective teachers instead of just moving teachers around

In Kentucky, 99.7 percent of all teachers are considered highly qualified, meaning they have the appropriate certification for the classes they teach, said Jennifer Baker, branch manager of educator diversification and equity in the office of Division of Next Generation Professionals . “Still, we have large equity gaps with our students in poverty, with our minority students, our students with disabilities and English language learners,” she said.

According to data from the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, high poverty, high minority schools and low performing schools employ a higher percentage of new teachers. And many of those new teachers aren’t sticking around, after two years only 55 percent of new teachers are teaching in the same school and 20 percent have left teaching altogether.

“You have new teachers in the most challenging situations then they are leaving,” Baker said. “So think about the kids, the struggling learners, they had the new teacher then next year those kids are likely to get a new teacher again.

“It becomes a revolving door,” she said. “And these are the kids that need the strongest teachers.”

The plan seeks to address the causes of the new teacher turnover such as lack of mentoring or other supports, Baker said.

The plan, which is due to the USED by June 1, will also address recruitment, placement, professional learning, evaluations and career pathways aimed at keeping effective and exemplary teachers in the classroom while giving them more responsibility.

The department has been gathering feedback on the plan from the Commissioner’s Advisory Councils and other stakeholders include Kentucky Youth Advocates, Baker said.

KDE’s plan focuses on five measures that that have an effect on teacher equity, Baker said. The measures include:

  • Working conditions
  • Overall percentage of effective teachers and principals
  • Teacher and principal growth
  • Percent of first year and K-TIP teachers in schools
  • Retention rate

Thanks to data from the Professional Growth Effectiveness System and the TELL Survey, districts will have more information than ever before on how many effective teachers they have and where they are working, said Christine Boatwright, administration education program consultant in the office of Next Generation Learners.

“Neither the U.S. Department of Education, nor the Kentucky Department of Education, is advocating that teachers be plucked from one spot to another or moved from one building to another,” she said. “What you really want to do is take that data and provide the teachers the supports they need to grow and become better.”

The USED will also require the state to publicly report the progress the state is making toward its teacher equity goals, Baker said. The data will be added to the School Report Cards, she said.

“It’s just additional data we are going to have to report to ensure that our most struggling students have equitable access to effective teachers,” Baker said. “For me what that really means is you are being really intentional and thoughtful about teacher and student placement and the supports you give teachers to help them grow.”

As part of the plan, KDE will develop mentoring guidelines for new teachers and offer help to districts in recruiting the best new teachers, she said.  It will be up to the districts to examine their placement of teachers and use the plan to make sure that all students have equal access to effective teachers.

Hill said she is encouraged that the plan focuses on growing teachers instead of mandating certain teachers be placed in certain schools or classrooms.

She believes more equitable distribution of effective teachers can be achieved by improving mentoring, making low-achieving schools exciting places to work and offering teacher incentives.

“We need systemic change,” she said. “We have to change how we train teachers. We have to change how we compensate teachers.”

Hill, who also works with the Kentucky Network to Transform Teaching,  which is working to increase the number of National Board Certified Teachers in Kentucky and provide teacher leadership opportunities for existing NBCTs, believes the plan has the potential to make work better for every Kentucky teacher.

“Teachers know too much about how kids learn, we know too much about how to gather data and use that data to make informed decisions, and part of this equity has to be to make our jobs doable,” she said.

That includes time to plan, collaborate and to follow career pathways that offer teachers leadership opportunities, she said.

“If Common Core was the work of the last decade and KERA before that, equity is the work of this decade,” she said.


Jennifer Baker

Christine Boatwright

Lauren Hill