School Reform 101: Effective Teachers in the Classroom

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The cover story of this week’s Time Magazine “How to Fix America’s Schools,” features Michelle Rhee, the relatively new and sometimes polarizing chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school district. Rhee has declared that the key to reform is good teachers, and her methods for stacking the school system with good teachers are controversial: shutting schools, firing principals, trimming school administration bureaucracy, and, most significantly, dismissing teachers she deems unacceptable and replacing them with new and improved models. One of her most contentious proposals is to pay teachers who elect to give up tenure higher pay – salaries could reach $130,000 – based on effectiveness as measured by test scores and class room evaluation.  

While this proposal has divided teachers and raised the ire of the union (which rejected Rhee’s proposal), research does support Rhee’s basic contention that good teachers equal good schools. According to a recent Future of Children volume, Excellence in the Classroom, that addresses improving teacher quality, what happens inside the classroom may be the most important factor in closing racial and social class gaps in learning.  “Indeed, teachers are so important, that, according to one estimate, a child in poverty who has a good teacher for five years in a row would have learning gains large enough, on average, to close completely the achievement gap with higher-income students.” 

In light of the findings in the volume, a Future of Children policy brief offers a five part plan to boost teacher quality. 

  1. Rethink entry requirements for teaching. Teachers should meet initial certification but then required to follow rigorous procedures and requirements for tenure or promotion.
  2. Implement a strategy to identify effective teachers. Use test scores as one, but not the only measure of efficacy. In addition to student gains on tests, principal and parent evaluations and possibly other tools developed by all stakeholders should be used. 
  3. Promote only effective teachers. Target professional development to nurture skills and make up for deficiencies, particularly in the early stages of a teacher’s career. If the extra help doesn’t help a deficient teacher improve, dismiss the teacher.
  4. Give bonuses to teachers who teach disadvantaged students or in fields that are difficult to staff.
  5. Promote professional development linked directly to teachers’ work. Not the current model of professional development, but a new and improved model that is several days long; subject specific; and aligned with school goals and curriculum. 

-- Based on “A Plan to Improve the Quality of Teaching in American Schools,” by Ron Haskins and Susanna Loeb. For more information, go to Excellence in the Classroom, eds. Cecilia Rouse and Susanna Loeb, Volume 17, Number 1, Spring 2007.

3 Comments

I am a teacher in NYC and it is very obvious to me that an excellent teacher is the most important element to reform education for our kids. One thing that I think is very important is pre teacher training. Many teachers major in education as an undergrad and do not take enough classes in the humanities, literature and philosophy. Teachers need to be highly educated to teach. This is not a new idea, there should be more reading and writing as an undergrad so when these teachers (I am talking about elementary teachers) go to teach reading and writing they have a solid education. They can go on to grad school to learn education theory and methods

Professional development is as important for ensuring the quality of the early childhood workforce as it is for promoting quality teaching of school-age children. The National Center Professional Development Center on Inclusion (NPDCI) has written a concept paper: "What Do We Mean by Professional Development in the Early Childhood Field?" which presents a definition and framework for professional development in early childhood. Defining what is meant by professional development is intended to guide efforts aimed at ensuring that the early childhood workforce is highly qualified and effective in working with young children (birth through 8) and their families. For more information go to: http://community.fpg.unc.edu/resources

It is encumbent on this newer style of education to encompass and enrol a greater support structure for increasing numbers of socially dysfunctional children. The collateral damage to family structures meeted out through adverserial systems against the formation of strong egalitarian communities and familial support is not an agenda that bodes well. All too often children and students aged through to undergraduate are presenting with issues requiring collateral support. Implementing policy, while ignoring tried and tested empirical evidence is simply reinventing the wheel. The models and outcomes for children in education is available from other cultures and social orders. The relaying of intergenerational psychopathy is a more involved social strategy I have yet to fathom. Teachers are dealing with a multifaceted problem that I believe have ideological origins. Therefore, I conclude that no matter how well the better teachers are rewarded they may wisely as is self evident in their distribution, continue to cherry pick their establishment of choice in which they may ply their trade. While they may be well remunerated, their standard becomes impossible to meet through fiscal policy decimation. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and this looks very much like a policy that meets this criteria. It will exacerbate an already bad and failing situation.

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