How can we best train and retain teachers? We convened several experts to discuss. You may also be interested in our report on the current state of the American teacher, which is embedded above.
Patrick McGuinn, Drew University
The current situation is simply untenable
Patrick McGuinn is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Drew University; he also authored a book, No Child Left Behind and the Transformation of Federal Education Policy, 1965-2005.
Race to the Top initiated a long-overdue debate over how to improve teacher quality in the United States and highlighted a number of dysfunctional state practices around teacher training, placement, evaluation, tenure, and dismissal. Three widespread practices in particular are in need of major revision: teacher evaluation and tenure systems that do not distinguish effective teachers from ineffective ones; forced placement, where teachers are assigned to schools based on seniority rather than the match of teacher skills to school preferences and needs; and LIFO (last in first out), by which teacher lay-offs are based entirely on seniority rather than teacher effectiveness. In most states today, teachers are given tenure automatically after three years in the classroom, with little meaningful evaluation of their teaching effectiveness, and are extremely unlikely to be fired during their career no matter how ineffective they are. And because our least effective teachers are concentrated in our poorest schools, the cost of leaving them in the classroom is borne disproportionately by our most disadvantaged students.
This situation is simply untenable. States may reasonably differ in how they define and measure teaching effectiveness; in particular, they may place different emphasis on the importance of student scores on standardized achievement tests — but states must act to improve their teacher evaluation and tenure processes as part of a broader push to improve teacher quality and classroom instruction. Such improvements, while necessary, are not sufficient, as a broader reassessment of the way states recruit, train, mentor, compensate, and distribute teachers must be undertaken as well. Removing ineffective teachers without developing an expanded pool of effective teachers to replace them is unlikely to deliver desired improvements in education, particularly in high poverty schools which already face staffing challenges.
Julie Kowal and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, Public Impact
We could close the achievement gap in five years
Julie Kowal is a senior consultant and Sharon Kebschull Barrett is a research consultant with Public Impact.
American children deserve the one ingredient we know creates stellar learning results: excellent teachers — the 20 to 25 percent who produce about a year and a half of learning growth, on average. With them, the U.S. can close most of its achievement gaps in five years and catch up internationally. Without them — and even with good teachers who produce a full year of progress — children who start behind stay behind, and few students get ahead of their beginnings. This is the antithesis of the American Dream.
How can we get an excellent teacher for every student? Fortunately, we already have about 800,000 excellent teachers in classrooms. With policymakers’ help, schools can enable them to reach more students — now, within budget. In 3X for All, Public Impact proposes extending excellent teachers’ reach by rethinking job designs and technology, and paying excellent teachers more from existing per-pupil funding. See this Center for American Progress report (PDF) for examples. In our Seizing Opportunity at the Top: Policy Brief, we show what policymakers must do:
- speedily improve the identification of excellent teachers;
- clear the policy barriers that keep them from reaching more students; and
- catalyze the will for schools to put excellent teachers in charge of every student’s learning.
These efforts, combined with better recruiting, retention, and dismissal policies, could put a top teacher in charge of nearly every classroom, reaching all students, not just a lucky few.
Barnett Berry, Center for Teaching Quality
Six ways to improve teacher prep programs
Barnett Berry is the founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality.
Recently, I collaborated with twelve expert teachers to write TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Our Public Schools … Now and in the Future. We argue that universities’ teacher education programs — and highly-touted alternative certification programs like Teach for America — perpetuate out-of-date models of teaching and learning.
Teacher recruits need a very different kind of preparation to teach the diverse, tech-savvy learners of today and to ready those learners for the 21st-century global marketplace. To make this happen, we must move far beyond reform rhetoric — and we must do so quickly. Here are six big strategies that can help teacher preparation programs break the mold:
1. Ensure that recruits are being prepared for the roles that are most needed in area schools: School districts should develop “labor market” reports, allowing universities to carefully consider how many recruits should be prepared and for what.
2. Jettison traditional three-hour course credits in favor of performance-based pedagogical modules and assessments: This nimble, practical approach will help recruits to develop specific teaching skills and will better identify who is ready to teach, when, and under what conditions.
3. Split the time: Work with school districts to create hybrid roles for the most effective teachers to spend half their time teaching and half their time as lead teacher educators.
4. Understand the community: Require recruits to complete a substantial internship in a community-based organization, developing deep knowledge of how and where students and their families live.
5. Embrace online: Engage recruits in a virtual network of teachers, preparing them to teach effectively online and to collaborate virtually with teaching colleagues.
6. Emergent Tech: Work with school districts to expose recruits to live and digitally recorded “lesson studies,” in which teams of candidates learn to critique teaching and assess student learning using emerging technologies.
Jamie Davies O’Leary, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
“Know it when you see it?” Hardly.
We can’t improve the quality of our nation’s educators or teacher training programs without a serious dialogue around what good teaching looks like, especially for the most at-risk students for whom excellent teaching is most vital. Further, policies must be structured in ways that tease out the attributes and skills of excellent educators and identify and develop these in less effective teachers.
In Ohio, we frequently hear that it’s just not possible to do this fairly. But experiences from other states and districts prove otherwise. We interviewed teachers evaluated under the District of Columbia’s IMPACT system — which measures hallmarks of strong instruction like checking for understanding, engaging students, and delivering content clearly. Overwhelmingly DC teachers believed that it correctly identified high and low performers as well as identified tangible ways they could improve.
We heard a similar theme when we interviewed Mike Miles, superintendent of Colorado’s Harrison School District 2. HSD2 measures teacher quality according to curricular alignment, classroom management, student engagement, and student growth, among many indicators. The district has seen more teachers achieving advanced levels of proficiency under this system, proving that instructional improvement is possible once we begin defining and measuring excellence.
The truism that good teaching can’t be quantified — that you “just know it when you see it” — is anything but true. These new systems may not be perfect, but they are worlds better than what we had previously. And they are a starting point if we want to finally get serious about improving teacher quality.
Allan Odden, University of Wisconsin
Before new decisions, we need new measures
Allan Odden is the Director, Strategic Management of Human Capital (SMHC) and the Co-Director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) at the University of Wisconsin.
All new efforts to produce teacher effectiveness indicators, of which I am aware, include both measures of a teacher’s instructional practice and direct evidence of the teacher impact on student achievement. The instructional practice measures include multiple elements, such as descriptions of pedagogical content knowledge for the concepts being taught, lesson plans, observations or videos of actual classroom teaching, testing instruments, and teacher reflections. The student performance measures include a combination of gain measures on state accountability tests, in most cases over a 3-4 year time period, as well as other test data, which can include short cycle assessments. When combined, the multiple measures give a solid indication of how good — effective — a teacher is at teaching.
Most new evaluation systems ultimately will produce a summative score that the teacher is performing at a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 level of practice. Some states plan to link these effectiveness levels to important decisions, such as requiring a level 2 performance to earn the professional license and requiring a higher level 3 performance to earn tenure. Districts also can use these effectiveness indicators to recognize outstanding teachers, to promote the most effective teachers into career categories, to focus intensive help for teachers in the lower effectiveness levels, and — if performance doesn’t improve — for dismissal. The measures also could be the foundation of new teacher salary schedules that would provide the largest pay hikes when a teacher’s effectiveness level improved.
As my recent book on Strategic Management of Human Capital in Education (Routledge, 2011) argued, when these effectiveness indicators come online, the education system can begin to really engage in strategic management of the most important individuals in the education system — teachers. Without such new measures, important decisions about teachers have little substantive basis, as this past decade’s futile search to identify highly qualified teachers showed.
Eugene Hickok, Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education
We demand something from teachers that we can’t define
Eugene Hickok is a former U.S. Undersecretary of Education and Deputy Secretary of Education.
Teacher quality matters. Some argue it matters more than anything else when it comes to student and school performance. If that is the case, then America has done a pretty poor job of making sure America’s teachers are up to the job.
Teacher quality — whatever that means — became something of a national priority under President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative. But that law tied teacher quality to teacher licensure and argued that with appropriate licensure requirements teacher quality could be ensured. More recently, under President Obama, the issue has been teacher competence more than quality: Are teachers getting the job done? This makes some sense. Qualifications don’t matter much if students aren’t learning. But establishing valid indicators of teacher competence has proven to be controversial. The most prevalent formulation has been to tie competence to student test scores. It is an understandable but misguided idea. So many things go into student learning that it is simplistic to think that there is some kind of direct and calculable ratio between teaching and learning as measured by how well a student scores on a test.
Should student achievement matter? Absolutely! But student achievement is as robust and complex an idea as teacher quality. It can’t be reduced to a test score. Tests matter, surely. But many tests matter more. And many kinds of tests matter even more.
Teaching and learning is a product of the chemistry of the classroom — and it is a chemistry that varies with each teacher with each student in every classroom. It is folly to seek to reduce it some formula that might be replicated through public policy. We are left this difficult dilemma: We must demand from our teachers what we cannot define and what we cannot do without.
Jon Schnur, New Leaders for New Schools
Our greatest resource is our experience
Jon Schnur is the co-founder and Chairman of the Board of New Leaders for New Schools.
What can we do to realize America’s great potential for ever-higher levels of educator and student excellence?
First, we can energize our students and educators to make big improvements toward rigorous, clear expectations and goals. This includes adopting and effectively implementing student standards and assessments to measure — and help educators, students and their families truly understand the specific elements and importance of — the knowledge and skills our students need to be on track for success in college and careers. It includes helping educators understand, observe, and get actionable feedback to improve performance toward rigorous standards for professional practice and ambitious goals for a healthy blend of student outcomes.
Second, we can ensure meaningful support and needed resources to help our students, educators, and schools succeed. This includes useful tools, professional development, extra time for student and educator learning, and sharing of promising practices. It also includes protecting funding for our schools, concentrating additional funding on effective efforts to improve education for our students in greatest need, and ending the requirements, mandates, and checklists that hamper productivity in our schools.
Third, we can define and enforce serious and fair consequences for success and failure against clearly defined expectations and criteria. That includes retaining successful educators with additional paid opportunities and responsibilities to help others succeed while continuing to serve their own students. It means setting high standards and longer time frames for teacher tenure — and providing tenure only to teachers who achieve those standards. And it means making it easier and faster to remove those teachers at any point in their career who are not serving students effectively.
Finally, the greatest resource in our American education system is the experience, insight and voice of our educators who have delivered strong results for our students and communities. We should honor them not only by thanking them, but also by including them at every level of policy discussion from the principal’s office to the school board, to the halls of legislatures to the Oval Office, from the publishing houses to the governors’ mansions.
Tricia Miller, National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality
Development and accountability can complement each other
Tricia Miller is the Deputy Director of the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality.
Federal and national attention has shifted from concern about whether a teacher is highly qualified — based on inputs such as certification and content knowledge — to concern about whether a teacher is effective, which is based on outcomes, such as teacher and student performance. Fueled by the Race to the Top competition and pushed by legislation specifying deadlines and requirements, states and districts are struggling to design and implement comprehensive teacher evaluation systems that are based on outcomes. This change is nothing short of a culture shift.
It is also an opportunity, however, to focus on creating evaluation systems designed to support and develop our teachers rather that just holding them accountable. Development and accountability do not have to be contradictory goals; they can complement one another.
A quality evaluation system can provide data for accountability. It can also provide data that can be used to identify areas of weakness for a teacher and target support and development to address those areas. The challenge is to ensure that the systems being created and implemented remain true to the ideal of support and development rather than devolving into a compliance orientation, wherein teacher evaluation is a task to be completed and checked off.
To best serve our students, we need to support and develop excellence in our teachers. Quality evaluation systems offer an opportunity to furnish this support. If we are to stay true to the American ideal of providing a quality education to all students, we must take full advantage of this opportunity.
Joe Aguerrebere, Former President/CEO of NBPTS
A first step is agreeing on a set of standards
Joe Aguerrebere is a former President and CEO of NBPTS (2003-2011), as well as a Deputy Director of the Ford Foundation from 1994 to 2003.
Ongoing national debates about how to get better teachers will never be resolved until there is professional and public consensus on a set of “common” standards for the practice of teaching. In today’s politicized educational world, the federal government, as well as every state and locality establishes their own regulatory framework influenced more by the politics of the day than by evidence of what works. As a result, the background and training of teachers across the country remains uneven leading to very uneven results for students.
Practitioners — and more importantly than government — need to step up and take responsibility for the preparation, development and assessment of teaching in the same way that other respected professions have done. This means coming together to arrive at a professional consensus about high quality teaching and the conditions that support effective learning outcomes for all students. As in other professions, professional national bodies can serve as vehicles for this consensus building. National accreditation can drive teacher training institutions toward a higher set of standards. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards can drive individual teachers toward the development of good teaching practice across subjects and grade levels.
Once there is agreement on a set of “standards of teaching practice,” then teacher preparation institutions will have a consistent way of preparing and developing teachers. School systems will then have a better framework for the evaluation and professional support of teachers, leading to better outcomes for children.
Celine Coggins, Teach Plus
We need to think about how we’re building the profession
More than a decade of research has confirmed what every parent knows: there are differences among teachers and they have huge consequences for student learning. Policymakers at the federal, state and local levels have addressed this problem by focusing on teacher recruitment and preparation. Attract the “best and brightest” to teaching and every kid will get a great education, so the logic goes. This strategy is too limited. Consider the following:
- Almost half of new teachers leave urban schools within their first three years;
- Virtually all teachers improve in their early years on the job, most reaching their peak effectiveness between years 3 and 5;
- Students in schools serving a low-income population are more than 2.5 times more likely to have a novice teacher than their more affluent peers.
We have just reached a demographic tipping point among American teachers. For more than 40 years, Baby Boomers have constituted the majority of teachers. Today, 53% of teachers have fewer than 10 years experience. For this incoming group, staying or leaving is often a year-by-year decision. To ensure the strongest among them continue working with students for more than just a couple of years, we need career pathways that allow them to grow and be recognized for their success promoting student achievement. Improving teacher quality requires more than getting smart people to consider teaching: it requires building a profession that retains high performers and allows them to take on leadership roles while continuing to work with students.
Michelle Exstrom, NCSL
The time is right, and the context is set
Michelle Exstrom is the Education Program Principal for Teaching Quality and Effectiveness at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
State legislators are facing the most difficult state fiscal conditions of our time and are looking for strategies to wisely allocate — or reallocate — state resources to policies and programs that work. Over the past decade, strengthening teaching quality has been a priority for state legislators because they understand that great teachers and school leaders must be the centerpiece of a successful 21st century education system.
This priority continues even through current budget challenges, and state legislators are once again leading their states to reforms that were not likely just a few years ago. In just the past 18 months, legislators in at least 26 states have enacted legislation overhauling teacher evaluation systems, tying teacher evaluations — and ultimately their jobs — in large part to student achievement. They are revamping compensation and using state data systems to evaluate preparation programs. They have also removed tenure provisions, making it easier to remove ineffective teachers. And they have provided additional targeted training for those teachers identified as needing improvement.
They are eager to lead because they understand what’s at stake. They want to set rigorous expectations for preparation and performance and lead their state and the nation toward a high-quality education workforce that will put our nation’s student achievement back on top. The time is right and the context is set for states to move forward to enact meaningful policies — and remove barriers where needed — to achieve the vision of not just effective, but excellent teachers and principals for every student.
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