Improving Educator Quality: What Will It Take?

School Reform

With the new school year across the U.S. well underway, much focus in the past few weeks has turned toward the profession of teaching. Obama’s new reform efforts are compelling schools to tie teacher evaluations with student test scores in order for schools to qualify for a piece of the $4.35 billion slotted to be distributed to states as part of the federal government’s “Race to the Top” competition. Also, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted the poor state of teacher preparation as part of his talk to an audience of educators at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Recently, the National Academy of Education released a white paper which nicely sums up key recommendations for improving teacher quality in the U.S. These include:

Recruitment of Teachers

This includes improving the pool of applicants to the teaching profession so teaching is seen as an attractive career, increasing the standards for entry into teacher education programs, developing reliable screening tools to ensure that people entering the teaching profession will be successful from the start, and systematizing better practices for teacher recruitment, funding them and codifying policies which support them.

Teacher Preparation

As Arne Duncan pointed out in his speech at Columbia University, institutions charged with preparing future teachers need to do a better job at providing teachers with the appropriate kind and amount of training they need to successfully meet the demands of their school and classroom. Specifically, NAEd listed the following as features of teacher education programs which produce better teacher candidates than others:

  • More courses required for entry or exit in their chosen content area (i.e., mathematics or reading)
  • A required capstone project (for example, a portfolio of work done in classrooms with students or a research paper)
  • Careful oversight of student teaching
  • A focus on providing candidates with practical coursework to learn specific practices
  • The amount of opportunity for candidates to learn about local district curricula
  • Student teaching experiences that are aligned with later teaching assignments in terms of grade level and subject area

Teacher Retention

Teachers, in general, gradually improve in their teaching proficiency after their first year of teaching and level off after five years. Many leave the profession after the second year, and by year five, 30% of teachers stop teaching. Furthermore, teachers who perform better on standardized tests and who have stronger teaching qualifications form a large part of those who leave the profession early in their careers. To offset this, NAEd recommends that programs should be developed to identify highly effective teachers and implement ways to retain them such as financial incentives and opportunities for professional growth.

Professional Development

Teachers need on-going professional development that helps them address their professional needs, the grades and subjects they teach, and the needs of the students they serve. In addition to these kinds of professional development, there is a need to identify ‘better’ professional development. While some reports show that many teachers who participate in professional development make desired changes to their instructional practices and show increased content knowledge, there is little evidence to support that it substantively translates into increased student achievement.

Effective recruitment, training, retention and professional development — all of these sound like intuitive places to focus on improving teacher quality. On the other hand, why don’t all of these domains already have policies, funding, and programs in place to ensure that teachers, who are entrusted with our children’s education and well-being during the day, are well-qualified, well-trained, and reliable? It’s difficult to predict what it will take to bring the profession of teaching the kind of stature it deserves (perhaps like that of a physician or an attorney) and the kind of funding it needs, but without these substantive changes, it is dubious whether or not the recommendations NAEd made, the changes Arne Duncan calls for, or the achievement results Obama’s administration wants to reward, will ever take place…and take hold.

What are your thoughts as a homeschool teacher or parent?

Article by Paolo Martin

Photo by iboy_daniel

Reading Curriculum and Reading Games by Smart Tutor

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