Report 2010-119 Summary - April 2011
Commission on Teacher Credentialing:
Despite Delays in Discipline of Teacher Misconduct, the Division of Professional Practices Has Not Developed an Adequate Strategy or Implemented Processes That Will Safeguard Against Future Backlogs
Our review of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (commission) revealed the following:
- As of the summer of 2009, according to the commission's management, the commission's Division of Professional Practices (division) had accumulated a backlog of 12,600 unprocessed reports of arrest and prosecution (RAP sheets)—almost three times a typical annual workload.
- These conditions appear to have significantly delayed processing of alleged misconduct and potentially allowed educators of questionable character to retain a credential. Our case review revealed the following concerning the division:
- For nearly 40 percent of the cases we reviewed, it took more than 80 days to open a case after receiving a report of misconduct and nearly two years in one case and three years in another case.
- It did not effectively track the status of cases that, if the credential holder is convicted of the crime charged, require mandatory revocation of the credential—it took one and a half months and six months, respectively, in two cases to revoke the credential after receiving court documents.
- It relied on the prosecution of criminal charges and delayed in seeking additional information from school districts, witnesses, and alleged victims, thus jeopardizing its ability to obtain information needed to investigate the misconduct.
- To streamline the Committee of Credentials' (committee) processing of pending cases, the division uses its discretion to close cases or not open cases for which it believes the committee would choose not to recommend disciplinary action against the credential holder. However, we do not believe the committee can lawfully delegate this discretion to the division.
- The commission's database that tracks cases the division reviews and investigates does not always contain complete and accurate information regarding cases of reported misconduct.
- We found discrepancies between the information in the database and paper files.
- The commission does not have procedures to account for all reports of educator misconduct it receives.
- Recently implemented reports lack the information necessary to make them efficient case-tracking and management tools.
- Because the commission does not have a complete set of approved hiring procedures and did not consistently document justification for hiring a particular candidate, it is vulnerable to allegations that its hiring decisions are unfair and that employment opportunities are not afforded equally to all candidates.
RESULTS IN BRIEF
The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (commission) was created in 1970 with the responsibility to ensure excellence in education by establishing high standards for the preparation and credentialing of public school educators. In addition to issuing teaching credentials, the commission issues credentials, certificates, and permits for positions such as school administrators, activity supervisors, and educators working in specialized teaching areas. The law requires the commission to appoint the Committee of Credentials (committee), a seven-member body, to review allegations of misconduct on credential holders and applicants and make recommendations of adverse actions to the commissioners. The Division of Professional Practices (division) investigates charges of misconduct or unprofessional conduct against credential holders and applicants on behalf of the committee and commissioners. Such investigations are intended to reveal whether the misconduct renders an individual unfit for the duties authorized by the credential.
We expected to find that the division uses management practices that enable it to efficiently and effectively resolve cases involving holders of or applicants for teaching credentials. To manage its caseload and prevent backlogs, we expected that the division would employ control systems and procedures that include a management information system that allows it to track the status of cases requiring mandatory adverse action against a credentialed teacher. This system would need to accurately and completely track all cases received, including the type of case, the length of time a case has spent in each stage of review, and the person responsible for the case. We also expected to find that the commission expeditiously addresses cases in which criminal conduct is alleged or for which it has received a notification of criminal activity from the California Department of Justice (Justice). Importantly, we expected that these control systems and procedures would prevent backlogs, which create delays in the reviewing and processing of reported misconduct and increase the risk that management's policies and procedures will not be followed.
However, the commission's executive director acknowledged that, as of the summer of 2009, the division had accumulated a backlog of about 12,600 unprocessed reports of arrest and prosecution (RAPs, commonly known as RAP sheets), which it receives from Justice. According to the manager of the division's Support Section (manager), the division has had 3,000 to 4,000 allegations in process (about a 10-month workload) since he began working there in 2005. The division evaluates the RAP sheets to determine whether the reported criminal activity could potentially affect the credential holder's or applicant's fitness for the duties authorized by the credential. The 2009 number represents nearly three times the number of RAP sheets and other reports of educator misconduct the division typically processes each year.
According to the manager, the backlog of unprocessed RAP sheets grew as a result of several factors, including vacancies due to employee turnover, the time needed to train replacement workers, furlough days for workers due to the State's budget deficits, ineffective and inefficient processes, and the lack of an information system capable of effectively tracking the division's workload. According to the manager, the division launched the "RAP project" in August 2009 to process the backlog of RAP sheets, which is still in progress.
We noted several conditions that appear to have been connected to the poor practices that led to the workload backlog. Specifically, we found that in some instances significant periods of time elapsed between critical steps in the division's process of reviewing reported misconduct. For example, for 11 of the 29 cases we randomly selected for review, the division took more than 80 days to open a case after receiving a report of misconduct, with one taking nearly two years and another taking nearly three years. The manager cited the large number of reports of misconduct, small number of staff, and a need to prioritize the cases as the cause of the delayed processing.
The division's delays in investigating reported misconduct potentially allowed educators of questionable character to retain a credential. Some of the more extreme cases involved allegations that credential holders distributed obscene material to a student, demonstrated recurring misconduct such as prostitution and petty theft, kissed a student, and made inappropriate sexual comments to female students.
In addition, the division has not always effectively tracked the status of cases that, if the credential holder is convicted of the crime charged, require mandatory revocation of the credential. Specifically, for six of the 23 cases we randomly selected for review that involved possible mandatory revocation, the commission's Credentialing Automation System Enterprise (database) did not contain a record of the current activities on the case. For three other cases involving potential mandatory revocation, the division took one and a half and six months, respectively, to revoke the individual's credential after receiving court documents in two instances and did not seek critical information regarding the conviction of a third individual for five months after receiving notification of the conviction.
Further, the division has not always pursued all available sources of information regarding its cases, relying instead on the prosecution of criminal charges. These delays in seeking additional information from school districts, witnesses, or alleged victims can jeopardize the division's ability to obtain the information needed to investigate the misconduct if the prosecution of criminal charges does not result in a conviction because students who are victims of misconduct graduate to other schools and teachers and administrators change jobs or retire.
The division has also not always effectively processed the RAP sheets it receives from Justice. For example, we could not locate 18 of 30 randomly selected RAP sheets we reviewed in the commission's database because it did not record an adequate level of detail regarding the offense reported to allow for a positive match. In addition, the division has not always notified Justice of individuals in whom it is no longer interested, causing unnecessary work to review further RAP sheets for these individuals. The analyst who processes the RAP sheets stated that the division was seeking a method to return the RAP sheets to Justice electronically; however, in March 2011 it began mailing the RAP sheets back to Justice.
Although the division has taken steps to improve its processing of reports involving educator misconduct, more improvement is needed. For example, the commission's strategic planning does not address important challenges the division faces in meeting its responsibilities. One of these challenges is that, according to the assistant general counsel, the division receives more reports of misconduct than the committee can review each month. In addition, the division has not collected the workload data needed to assist in determining the required level of staff to meet the workload.
In its efforts to eliminate current and future workload backlogs, the division implemented some measures to streamline the actions the committee takes to determine whether probable cause exists for adverse action against credential holders accused of misconduct. Specifically, the division will close cases, or will decide not to open cases, if it believes the committee would choose not to recommend disciplinary action against the credential holder. However, we question whether the division has the authority under the law to make these decisions.
Moreover, the division has not developed comprehensive written procedures for reviewing reported misconduct. Such procedures are necessary to inform division staff of management's policies and procedures, serve as reference material, and provide a training tool for new employees. Importantly, the database the division uses to track the cases it reviews and investigates does not always contain complete and accurate information regarding cases of reported misconduct. Specifically, as part of our assessment of the reliability of the commission's database, we conducted accuracy testing. We determined that the database is not sufficiently reliable to be used to identify the number of some reports of misconduct, the actions taken by the committee, the recommendations for adverse action, and the number of days between the date that division staff opened and closed a case for cases the committee did not review that were opened during the period of January 2007 through June 2010. In addition to our accuracy testing, we found in other samples we tested that there were discrepancies between the information in the database and the associated paper files. We identified five case files where there were no documents in the paper file to support an entry in the database, such as the division's request for additional information about a case; another case where the division issued document request letters, but the requests were not noted in the database; 18 dates recorded in the database that were one month or more after the division actually received the paper document; and the division could not locate paper files for two cases we reviewed. Further, the division has not developed and implemented procedures to account for all reports of educator misconduct it receives.
Although the division recently implemented reports and processes intended to better manage its workload and to track cases and reports of misconduct, the reports lack the information necessary to make them efficient case-tracking and management tools. As such, they do not always address the problems we identified during our review. For example, its reports do not include the reasons for case delays, and thus effective oversight of the cases listed in the reports requires time-consuming research of paper case files to identify their status.
Familial relationships among commission employees appear to have a negative impact on many employees' perceptions of their workplace. For example, more than 40 percent of the employees who responded to our survey indicated that familial relationships or employee favoritism compromised the commission's hiring and promotion practices. When we reviewed the commission's hiring procedures, we found that it does not have a complete set of approved hiring procedures that it uses consistently, but instead uses several state hiring policies, guidelines, and procedures in addition to its own hiring procedures, which have been in draft form since 2007. In addition, managers and human resources staff did not consistently document each of the steps in the hiring process or their justification for selecting a particular candidate. Consequently, the commission is vulnerable to allegations that its hiring decisions are unfair and that employment opportunities are not afforded equally to all candidates.
The commission's processes for filing Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints and grievances are designed to mitigate the threat of retaliation by allowing employees to file EEO complaints or grievances with designated personnel and outside agencies instead of their direct supervisors. However, 43 percent of the commission employees responding to our survey indicated that they would fear retaliation if they were to file an EEO complaint or grievance. Moreover, about 21 percent of the employees who responded to our survey were not aware of the EEO complaint process, and 33 percent were not aware of the grievance process. Thus, we believe the commission could do a better job of informing employees of these processes and explaining the protections they provide.
To comply with the law and reduce unnecessary workload, the division should continue to notify Justice of individuals for whom it is no longer interested in receiving RAP sheets.
The commission should revise its strategic plan to identify the programmatic, organizational, and external challenges that face the division and the committee, and to determine the goals and actions necessary to accomplish its mission.
To ensure that it can effectively process its workload in the future, the commission should collect the data needed to identify the staffing levels necessary to accommodate its workload.
The commission should seek a legal opinion from the attorney general to determine the legal authority and extent to which the committee may delegate to the division the discretionary authority to close investigations of alleged misconduct without committee review, and take all necessary steps to comply with the attorney general's advice.
Once the commission has received the attorney general's legal advice regarding the extent to which the committee may delegate case closures to the division, the commission should undertake all necessary procedural and statutory changes to increase the number of cases the committee can review each month.
The division should develop and formalize comprehensive written procedures to promote consistency in, and conformity with, management's policies and directives for reviews of reported misconduct.
The division should provide training and oversight, and should take any other necessary steps, to ensure that the case information in the commission's database is complete, accurate, and consistently entered to allow for the retrieval of reliable case management information.
To ensure that the division promptly and properly processes the receipt of all the various reports of educator misconduct it receives, such as RAP sheets, school reports, affidavits, and self-disclosures of misconduct, it should develop and implement procedures to create a record of the receipt of these reports that it can use to account for them. In addition, the process should include oversight of the handling of these reports to ensure that case files for the reported misconduct are established in the commission's database to allow for tracking and accountability.
To adequately address the weaknesses in its processing of reports of misconduct, the division should revisit its management reports and its processes for overseeing the investigations of misconduct to ensure that the reports and practices provide adequate information to facilitate the following:
- Reduction of the time elapsed to perform critical steps in the review process.
- Adequate tracking of the reviews of reports of misconduct that may require mandatory action by the commission to ensure the timely revocation of the credentials for all individuals whose misconduct renders them unfit for the duties authorized by their credential.
- Prompt requests for information surrounding reports of misconduct from law enforcement agencies, the courts, schools, and knowledgeable individuals.
- An understanding of the reasons for delays in investigating individual reports of misconduct without having to review the paper files for the cases.
To better ensure that its hiring decisions are fair and that employment opportunity is equally afforded to all eligible candidates, and to minimize employees' perceptions that its practices are compromised by familial relationships or employee favoritism, the commission should do the following:
- Prepare and/or formally adopt a comprehensive hiring manual that clearly indicates hiring procedures and identifies parties responsible for carrying out various steps in the hiring process.
- Maintain documentation for each step in the hiring process. For example, the commission should maintain all applications received from eligible applicants and should preserve notes related to interviews and reference checks. Documentation should be consistently maintained by a designated responsible party.
- Hiring managers should provide to the commission's office of human resources documentation supporting the appointment decisions, and the office of human resources should maintain this documentation so that it can demonstrate that the hiring process was based on merit and the candidate's fitness for the job.
To ensure that employees understand their right to file either an EEO complaint or grievance, and to reduce any associated fear of retaliation, the commission should do the following:
- Include in its EEO policy a statement informing staff members that they may make complaints without fear of retaliation.
- Actively notify employees annually of its EEO complaint and grievance processes, including the protection from retaliation included in both.
- Conduct training on its EEO complaint process on a periodic basis.
The commission agrees with most of our recommendations and emphasizes that it takes its role of enforcing professional discipline very seriously while balancing the safety of California school children and the due process rights of educators.