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Transforming professional learning in California:

The promise & possibilities of micro-credentials

A policy brief from the Center for Teaching Quality

Its time for Americas young peopleall, not just a privileged fewto engage in deeper learning. But
transforming how students learn and lead requires parallel changes in the systems that support teacher
learning and leadership. In order to realize the promise of personalized, competency-based learning for all
students, professional learning for all teachers must evolve. As Andy Caulkins of Next Generation Learning
Challenges stated, If the teachers arent experiencing next-generation teaching and learning practices as
adult learners in their schools, then the students certainly wont either. This policy brief focuses on why the
transformation of professional development is critical to closing the student achievement gap, and how
California can capitalize on the emerging micro-credentialing movement for teachers to ensure deeper learning
for all students.
In California, a state with the nations highest proportion of English learners 1, and where 53 percent of
students come from low-income households, achievement and opportunity gaps abound. Additionally, over
the last decade, enrollments in the states teacher education programs have dropped by over 70 percent,
spurring a dramatic increase, once again, in districts hiring underprepared recruits who teach on provisional
and short-term permits. California has acute shortages of math, science, and special education teachers.2
Despite daunting circumstances, California is well positioned to transform teaching and learning. Consider
these examples:

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), landmark school finance legislation offering school
districts more discretion in how they allocate resources, including personnel;


The states policy structures developed to systematically support and assess new teachers through
the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment System and the Teacher Performance Assessment;


The states demonstration of collaboration through the CORE network, a model for how school
districts can work together to build professional capital to promote continuous improvement and a
holistic approach to accountability.


The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) and the California Teachers
Associations collaboration on the Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC) to support high-quality
professional learning for Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.

We know a great deal about what needs to happen next to advance the teaching professionoutlined
poignantly in Greatness by Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State. And now
research evidence has helped clarify the how and why of teacher leadership for deeper learning.

Research evidence
Researchers Matthew Kraft and John Papay underscore why collaborative cultures matter: Teachers who
work in supportive contexts stay in the classroom longer, and improve at faster rates, than their peers in less supportive environments.3 And what matters most about those contexts, they note, are factors like the
quality of relationships and collaboration among staff, the responsiveness of school administrators, and the
academic and behavioral expectations for students. When such factors are weak or absent, teacher turnover
blocks sustained progress in implementing new reforms.
Other investigators have discovered that students score higher on achievement tests when their teachers
have opportunities to work with colleagues over longer periods of time and spread their expertise to one
another.4 In addition, students achieve more in schools that have higher levels of collaboration5 and when
teachers report frequent conversations with their peers that centered on their teaching, and when there was
a feeling of trust or closeness among [them].6 When teachers taught in schools with better collaboration,
they were more effective than their peers who worked in other sites with lesser-quality collaboration, 1
irrespective of their own collaborative efforts and expertise. 7
Researchers have also identified specific characteristics of particularly effective approaches to collaboration.
Dylan William has noted that teachers improve instruction when they have opportunities to apply what they
learn and to help one another take instructional risks. They are influenced most by those who have
pedagogical credibility as a coach. 8 Other scholars have shown how teachers develop as leaders when they
use specific practices and routines that organize discussion of reform goals and problems of teaching and
learning and they develop and sustain ties with external organizations and groups that supply intellectual,
social, and material resources for their work.9
Teachers themselves put an exclamation mark on these research findings. Over 90 percent of them reported
that their colleagues contribute to their own individual teaching effectivenessechoing the importance of
leadership from the classroom in fueling student achievement. 10
Californias own Greatness By Design report recognizes that teachers remain isolated in egg-crate classrooms
and performing the same functions after 30 years as they did when they first entered the profession.11
Despite its encouraging work on LCFF, California, as a state, is not yet advancing coordinated policies and
practices to encourage and support such a shift. Deeper learning for all students will not be realized without a
parallel system of teachers leading their own learning, and documenting their impact. This is why we have high
hopes for the emerging approach of micro-credentials, which could yield powerful results for students by
helping teachers and system leaders optimize professional learning and collaboration. Simultaneously, microcredentials provide an opportunity for the profession to be more fully owned by teachers, and to have their
accomplishments better understood by the public and policy makers.

In a departure from traditional working conditions surveys, this research team defined the quality of collaboration based on teachers
reports of helpfulness and extensiveness of collaboration in different instructional domains.

Micro-credentials: Documenting impact, spreading

To do their work effectively, teachers must devote significant time, energy, and effort to their own
professional growth throughout their careers. As the research evidence makes clear, collaborative cultures
that support teachers growth garner significant benefits for students and can contribute mightily to the
ability to sustain reforms in schools and systems.
As weve shared here, California lacks a coherent system to support, document, and maximize the growth of
teachers. Unfortunately, the state is not alone. A recent report from the Boston Consulting Group indicates
that our nation spends about $18 billion annually on teacher learning, but very few teachers (29 percent) are
highly satisfied with their formal learning opportunities 12. Even professional learning communitiesa mode
with considerable potential for peer-to-peer learningearn low ratings from teachers because of inadequate
implementation. Three key characteristics distinguish the micro-credentialing approach from traditional
professional development activities:
Competency-based: Micro-credentials focus on educators actual skills and abilities, not the
amount of seat time they have logged in their learning. They require educators to demonstrate
their abilities around discrete skills of teaching and/or leadership to implement competencies in
their practiceeither inside or outside the classroom.
Personalized: Teachers can select which micro-credentials to pursuebased on their own needs,
their current students challenges and strengths, district priorities, or instructional shifts. They can
identify the specific activities that will support them in developing targeted and relevant
On-demand: Micro-credentials are responsive to teachers schedules. They can opt to explore new
competencies or receive recognition for existing ones on their own time, using an agile online system
to identify competencies, submit evidence, and earn digital badges.
Heres how micro-credentials work:
Teachers identify the micro-credential they want to pursue. It might relate to knowledge
and skills they have already mastered or to a new area in which theyre hoping to develop expertise.
The micro-credential provides details about what they should know and be able to do; specifies
appropriate documentation; and recommends resources and activities to develop the competencies.
Teachers submit evidence of their competence. This might include a portfolio, video,
samples of student work, classroom observations, or other documentation of their learning.
Trained assessors, who have earned a specific micro-credential, evaluate the
evidence submitted by their peers. The micro-credential can then be displayed and shared as
digital badges on websites, resumes, online profiles, and with colleagues and administrators.
The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) is working with a range of partnersincluding the Stanford Center for
Opportunity Policy in Education and the Center for Collaborative Educationto contribute to the growing
ecosystem of more than 200 micro-credentials that can be customized to fit the individual instructional
contexts, strengths, and needs of Californias diverse teaching corps. Yet, to move from innovative idea to
sustainable solution, micro-credentials must have currency on par with the continuing education unit.

Policy recommendations
Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides ample opportunity for innovative
approaches to professional learning powered by the expertise of the states teachers. In order for microcredentials to transform professional development, CTQ recommends the following policies be considered by
state legislators:
Introducing micro-credentials as a formal part of state professional development structures as
Illinois Public Act 098-0610 has done;
Allow for teacher re-licensure procedures to include micro-credentials as an element of ongoing
professional development;
Recognize micro-credentials as a tool to fuel improved follow-up to state- and/or district-led
trainings by collecting evidence of changes in teaching practices;
Allow teachers to earn continuing education units for time spent assembling micro-credential
portfolios, as is the case for teachers pursuing National Board Certification; and
Make micro-credentials explicitly eligible for funding under future state allocations for educator
Here is the good news: The expertise of teachers throughout the stateincluding those working with
Mills College, Los Angeles Education Partnership, and the National Board Resource Centeris already
being organized. Now is the time to build on their talents and passions.

California Department of Education. 2013-2014. English Learner students by language by grade. Retrieved November 20, 2014 from
2 Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in
the U.S.. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
3 Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J.P. (2016). Developing workplaces where teachers stay, improve, and succeed. The social side of education reform.
1-3. Ed. E. Quintero. Albert Shanker Institute.
4 Jackson, C. K., & Bruegmann, E. (2009). Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers
(No. w15202). National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved November 21, 2012 from http://www.nber.org/papers/w15202
5 Goddard, Y. L., Goddard, R. D., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2007). A theoretical and empirical investigation of teacher collaboration for
school improvement and student achievement in public elementary schools. Teachers College Record, 109(4), 877-896.
6 Leana, C. (2011). The missing link in school reform. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 30-35.
7 Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S. O., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. (2015). Teacher collaboration in instructional teams and student achievement.
American Educational Research Journal, 52(3), 475-514.
8 Wiliam, D. (2014). The formative evaluation of teaching performance. Centre for Strategic Education. Retrieved from Retrieved from
http:// www.dylanwiliam.org/DylanWiliamswebsite/Publicationsles/The%20formative%20evaluation%20of%20teaching%20perfor
9 Little, J. W. (2003). Constructions of teacher leadership in three periods of policy and reform activism. School Leadership &
Management, 23 (4), 415-416
10 Markow, D., & Pieters, A. (2010). The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Collaborating for Student Success. MetLife. Retrieved
from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED509650.pdf.
11 California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlaksons Task Force on Educator Excellence. September 2012. Greatness
by design: Supporting outstanding teaching to sustain a Golden State. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from http://www.cde.ca.gov/eo/
in/documents/greatnessfinal.pdf p. 72
12 Boston Consulting Group. (2014). Teachers know best: Teachers views on professional development. Retrieved from
http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/learning/ teacher_views_on_pd/