We Must Have Even Higher Expectations For Teachers
Setting high standards for student learning is important, but if we are to attain true excellence in our schools, we must have even higher expectations for teachers. Traditional preparation and certification programs are failing to provide sufficient quality and are deterring many talented candidates from entering the classroom. To address these realities, states are exploring bold and creative ways to attract, prepare and appropriately compensate talented professionals. Many states now are faced with the dual challenges of improving teacher quality to meet rising expectations for students while increasing teacher quantity to address expected and existing shortages, particularly in hard-to staff subject areas and schools.
Yet not all states have the same needs. Some are not producing enough teachers, while others are preparing more than they need. There are shortages in particular geographical areas, especially urban and rural, and surpluses in others. There are shortages in particular subject areas, like mathematics and science, and surpluses in others. Conventional approaches to improving the quality of teaching based on narrow and burdensome certification requirements and input-driven measures, such as seat time in education-theory courses, are not sufficient to the task. Nor is nearly enough attention being paid to ensuring that every teacher possesses rich and deep knowledge of the subjects that he or she will be imparting to students.
Some states are focusing on common-sense strategies to prepare and recruit quality teachers. We are reshaping traditional teacher education and professional development programs to make them more challenging and content-rich, and expanding alternative certification programs to attract top liberal arts graduates, mid-career changers and other talented professionals to the public school classroom. This has attracted large numbers of qualified people who have much to offer students. New programs have had great success in leading talented individuals to the classroom. These individuals have brought a welcome energy and sense of mission, and, more importantly, are improving student academic performance.
States also are beginning to hold teachers more accountable for results in student learning, the most important measure of teacher quality. Many states also are working to give school leaders more flexibility and authority over staffing and compensation decisions. Charter schools have led the way in these important areas by freeing innovative school leaders and teachers to make their own personnel decisions and holding them accountable for results.
Promising approaches like tenure reform, teacher testing, pay for performance systems, alternative routes to certification and differential and bonus pay for teachers in “high-need” subject areas also are being pursued at the state and local levels. Importantly, this approach mirrors the flexibility-in-return-for-high-expectations model while helping to support and expand successful innovation.
Federal policy should reflect this same approach, giving state and local leaders the flexibility to pursue creative solutions that meet their unique needs. Rather than dictating solutions, federal programs should encourage innovation through initiatives aimed at increasing teacher quality and holding schools accountable to parents and taxpayers for results.
Federal education policy needs to change to reflect these new realities. Reform energies that have been unleashed in the states should be freed from federal micromanagement and red tape. It is time for Washington to recognize the primacy of the states in the provision of education, and support and expand the reform energies of innovative state and local leaders.
Prominent leaders on both sides of the political aisle acknowledged that federal education policy, though well-intentioned, has long over-emphasized process and compliance while paying too little attention to the bottom line – improved student achievement. We believe that freedom in exchange for accountability – much as we see in the “charter school” strategy – should be the template for federal education policy as a whole. What is needed today is a commitment to trust state and local educators and school officials to verify the performance of children. Simply put, states should receive wide-ranging freedom in the use of their federal dollars in exchange for significantly greater accountability for results.
Borrowing from ideas supported on both sides of the aisle, the six performance-based grants should be:
– Closing the Achievement Gap Between Disadvantaged and Advantaged Students
This relates chiefly to the goals set out for Title I. States would be given the flexibility to target funds more effectively to children and reduce the time and costs associated with endless accounting and compliance measures. Federal dollars would become an entitlement that accompanies needy children to the education providers of their choice – with states determining the boundaries of those choices and the eligibility of providers.
– Helping Children Become Proficient in English
This grant would focus federal education policy on the goal of accelerating English language learning for non-English speakers. States would set targets for moving students with limited English proficiency into classes taught in English, as well as specific goals for the proficiency that students are expected to achieve. Goals would be met using whichever strategy is found to be most effective.
– Raising Teacher Quality
Federal professional development and other teacher-related programs would be consolidated into a single grant. States could use funds to improve teacher quality by exploring new ways of preparing, licensing, hiring and compensating teachers. Because the best measure of teacher quality is student achievement, states would be held accountable for producing gains in achievement rather than increasing percentages of teachers with particular credentials.
– Expanding School Options
The most effective form of accountability is requiring schools to attract students and the dollars that follow them. This grant would help states expand and widen the range of available school options. It would expand existing efforts to provide start-up funds for initiatives such as charter schools, and support other options like magnet schools, and efforts to provide parents with more information about school performance and the range of available school options. Increased choices and better information for parents made available through this grant would complement efforts to provide better options for disadvantaged students.
– Fostering Innovations
States would be given funds to pursue their own reform strategies. This grant would allow states to target their own particular needs while trying new approaches for boosting student achievement. Once they decide on reform strategies to pursue, states would develop the performance objectives by which they would be held accountable.
– Demanding Accountability
The performance grants described above give states unprecedented flexibility to identify and attack the most pressing educational challenges they face. In return, states would be required to demonstrate that they are meeting the performance targets they set for each grant. The funds provided in this grant could be used to create and maintain high academic standards, effective assessments and workable accountability systems.
True accountability at any level requires compiling and reporting timely, accurate and understandable information to the public on school performance. At the state and local levels, we are pursuing innovative strategies to get clear and meaningful information to the public that allows people to compare performance from school to school, from district to district and from region to region. This information is vital to parents who must make choices about children’s education.
This valuable information also enables state and local education officials to better identify strengths and develop focused strategies for assessing weaknesses. Better information is also valuable at the macro-level so comparisons of educational performance can be made from state to state and even country to country to get a global perspective on our relative performance and competitiveness. Collection and dissemination of this kind of information is the core purpose of the federal role in education.
As state and federal education policy continues moving in the direction of increased accountability, the availability of timely and reliable information will become even more important. We urge Congress to move quickly on these important issues. Programs to serve disadvantaged students need to be refocused on improving academic achievement. The current federal education framework must change in order to give reform-minded state and local leaders the tools they need to accomplish their goals unencumbered by rules and regulations from Washington. Most importantly, parents need to be empowered to direct the course of their children’s education by having more choices and better information about school performance. We must change the way we think about our schools. Somehow, those of us in education have lost our true focus. It seems we have put the interests of maintaining systems over what is best for children. We challenge educators and policymakers at all levels to rethink old assumptions and renew their focus on what is working in public education: more options for parents, autonomy for schools and single-minded commitment to what matters most – improving student achievement.
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.