Cut Costs and Improve Life in California: Kill BTSA Now!

California’s Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program, or BTSA, is one of the least loved beginning teacher experiences in California. Like most liberal programs, BTSA’s name is doublespeak, the reality and the adjectival title are stark opposites. BTSA is the brain child of the University of California’s “educational research, but research does not show BTSA supports beginning teachers. Instead, quality assurance is based on an expensive series of annual conferences and peer reviews (see: Program Evaluation and Accountability).

Anecdotal evidence (abundant on blogs) suggests just the opposite. BTSA is a jobs program for university faculty, administrators in training, and senior teachers. The evaluative process, the certification process, and the support processes are all redundant systems. Not many beginning teachers would pay for this “service” (see also BTSA is…). Killing BTSA saves money and improves the lives of countless new faculty members in K-12 classrooms. This though, is not happening. In the twilight zone of California government, the funding for the “support” is being used for books, but the BTSA requirements for credentialing remain. There is even talk of charging new teachers fees for the privilege of participating in this boondoggle.

BTSA, like much else in California’s educational system, is a top down program. PhD’s, and wannabe administrators who have been working most of their adult lives to escape the K-12 classroom, are in charge of future classroom teachers. The genuine support, as it does in most of life, happens for free. New teachers make friends who teach them the ropes or they don’t. Teachers share lesson plans or they don’t. The faculty generates department standards for excellence or they don’t. Hence, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, part of the massive K-12, 40 billion dollar education budget, is a place for far more than the proposed 10% across the board cuts, for it is a perfect place to cut government to improve lifestyle. This is a place for draconian cuts. This part of the budget can be reformed so that it all but pays for itself.

Most K-12 teachers would be shocked to know that the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing actually draws 32 to 33 million dollars a year in funding from K-12 education. That’s because most teachers have direct experience with this agency as a blood-sucking fee machine. In fact, the licensing, testing, and credentialing fees do generate 21 million dollars a year while the actual hard work of fingerprinting, collating extensive teacher applications, and issuing certifications accurately costs only 9 million dollars. The 12 million surplus should be able to run the California Parks Service, but no, the Professional Services and the Professional Practices divisions cost tax payers 45 million dollars a year. Hence, the California Commission’s yearly drain on the general fund.

The Professional Practices Services Division is the Commission’s legal division. It’s packed with lawyers. The income producing part of the Commission had about seventy employees, now they are down to sixty-five. That was the “across the board cut of ten percent.” These sixty-five employees run their office at about $136,000 per person. The offices the lawyers run cost about $227,000 per person. Surely, Practices Division can run with four or five fewer attorneys. Fire the ones with the greatest seniority. They have the highest salaries and they delegate most of their work to underlings anyhow. Plainly, the State ought to cut more lawyers. This is the sort of fired worker that still saves California money after he is unemployed. Most low wage workers, like the folks that do the fingerprinting in Certifications, cost the state almost as much in unemployment insurance, renters’ assistance, and food stamps as they do to employ. This, however, is not true of the lawyer. Firing a lawyer is actually a net gain for the state. The only mitigating circumstance is that an unemployed lawyer runs a serious risk of getting involved politics. The added expenses of imprisoning a lawyer who has turned to such white collar crime, or worse, not catching his criminal activities, may, in the end, outweigh the temporary fiscal budgetary gains of terminating his or her services. One last caveat: although both the Certifications Division and the Practices Division took a 10% personnel cut in 2008-2009, the projected cost of each office is up again in the 2009-2010 budget.

Really, the Division that sinks the Commission on Teacher Credentialing is Professional Services. The thirty-three employees of this division spend 40 million dollars of California Taxpayer monies annually. The offices in this division cost over 1 million dollars per employee. Of course, unlike the revenue producing Credentialing Division, or the bloated legal division, the one million dollars per employee is not related directly to individual salaries. These State workers distribute funding. But to whom? It is hard, of course, to tell what bureaucrats don’t do for their money by the literature they produce explaining their work. Still, to this much the Division of Professional Service will confess (without the use of water boarding): “The Professional Services Division is responsible for the development of licensure standards for all credential areas for which the Commission issues credentials.” If California is serious about cutting budgets, so serious that the legislature wants to raise the sales tax, issue debt, and fire health care workers, can it not simply leave the standards from last year in place for a while? California should lay off sixty percent of the people involved in assessment. Their salaries are significant. They have PhDs, are committed to fighting global warming, and are some of the few with minds that can truly understand that the Spotted Marsh Mouse is more important than most people. To any self-respecting state bureaucracy, these folks are worth any three lawyers and any fifteen or twenty teachers, especially teachers so lowly that they are still seeking certification. Still, as valuable as these members of society are, California should release them and their fantastic intellects to do more meaningful things.

Again, where the Professional Services Division describes its work as: “the development and implementation of licensing examinations as required in the Education Code” there is room for draconian cuts. Mix and match eighty-five percent more of the past test questions for a while and reduce the internal validity assessments. If teachers start teaching that the Darwin theory, especially regarding natural selection, is antiquated or that the Democrats have plagiarized large sections of the Communist Manifesto in the party platform (page 6 last paragraph), then, then California educators might have a problem. Until then, trust the previous tests. They are absurdly irrelevant enough. No one will teach a clear thought in a public school for at least another half a century. The testing development people worry too much. California could fire sixty percent in this department and sleep better as well.

Where the Professional Services Division spends the real money is in “the administration of state-funded programs including the Paraprofessional Teacher Training Program, the Alternative Certification/Intern Program, and in conjunction with the Department of Education, the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program. Related activities include data collection, reporting, and policy research.”

These funds are distributed to local school districts for use in small, localized programs, the merits of which are very difficult to assess. Certainly, even if there were no budget crisis, the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment Program should be axed. Right now the program is clinging to funding. The 2009-2010 grants have been made Tier 3. That is, Local Educational Agencies (school districts) may redirect the BTSA grant funds to areas of need. But this is not enough. The legislated BTSA requirements for credentialing must be expunged. It is an outrage that the highly paid experts that have administered this debacle still have jobs in this cost sensitive environment.

The fact is that most beginning teachers would pay good money to avoid this service. Why not let them. Let them pay $200.00 to avoid the service entirely. See how many actually would. That’s research. Better yet, do an auction. With fifty new teachers in the room, auction off twenty BTSA free credentials. See how despised this program truly is. If there ever were any beneficial aspects of BTSA, they emerged from good teacher education programs already in existence, programs that are already part of teacher’s credentialing process. If recruitment and retention of high quality teachers is still California’s goal, these programs should all be dissolved and the funds used to reduce class size or increase teacher salaries.