Secretary Bell Would Fund Model 'Master-Teachers' Projects
Last week, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell discussed ways of improving the teaching profession with Assistant Editor Thomas Toch. Following are excerpts from the conversation.
Q:What needs to be done to attract more academically able people into the teaching profession and keep them there?
A:I think we need to bring into the elementary and secondary schools a system of academic rank like we now have in higher education.
Teaching is a dead-end job for a lot of people. Bright, energetic people work hard to achieve and they want some recognition for that. But [recognition] is not available when you pay everybody on the basis of years of experience and college credits.
In higher education, not only do we have three professorial levels, we've now gone to a distinguished professorship, to provide a structure that will recognize and reward outstanding performance ... based on peer review. We hope that the master teachers will be for elementary and secondary education what the full professor is to higher education.
In addition, we've got to have a very vigorous recruiting effort to get more academically able people to go into teaching.
I would hope that we would be able to establish some special help for academically able individuals who choose teaching as a profession, to provide them help out of the student-aid program--special consideration. If we do that and begin to do something with the career structure, then I think we'll see the teaching profession turn around.
Q:How do you plan to make provisions in the student-aid program for the academically able who choose to teach?
A:We will be looking at that as a possibility; no question about that.
Q:What do you mean when you say you are looking at it?
A:The student-aid program is up for renewal in Congress, and we're now studying the potential of providing something in the structure [of the aid program to encourage able students to enter teaching]. We think we can make a significant contribution there.
We think we can also help by financing the research and development of some pilot [master-teacher] efforts where universities and school districts work together and develop an academic ladder system. We wouldn't be getting into teacher salaries. We'd be financing the research and development [work] of school systems that want to move to an academic-rank system. They could learn a great deal from universities. ... I think we ought to capitalize on the years of experience that higher eduation has had with this concept. And they ought to help in this regard.
Q:This is a new proposal?
A:We haven't said much about it.
Q:You're thinking of pilot projects along the lines of [the master-teacher project being developed in] Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
A:Yes. Elam Hertzler, who was executive assistant here [in the Education Department], is now superintendent of schools in Shawnee, Okla. He called me last night to tell that his school board had approved his recommendation to install a master-teacher program in the Shawnee Public Schools. So there's a move that's coming on. I visited with the superintendent of schools in Dallas, and they're interested in making the same move. ... And Governor Graham was in this week describing the [master-teacher] plan just passed in the state of Florida. ... We think there are going to be large numbers of these kinds of endeavors.
Q:What specifically will you do to facilitate these experiments?
A:We'll entertain some applications for grants and finance some of these projects. ... We have some proposals in now and we have an rfp ["Request for Proposals"] out on that through the Secretary's discretionary budget.
Q:What did you mean when you said recently in West Virginia that you are partly to blame for the confusion over the distinction between merit pay and a differentiated-staffing plan?
A:I said I deserve some blame for not doing a very good job of explaining the difference between the old traditional merit-pay idea, where the principal "merit-rates" the teacher, and the master-teacher idea, which is an academic-rank concept.
You might say it's a distinction without a difference, both of them try to recognize and reward outstanding teaching. But one of them has the peer-review system and under the other one the principal tries to merit-rate the teacher. ...
A:ll of the publicity in the newspapers [is on] merit ratings; you don't read much about the parallel with higher education and the academic-rank system and the need for a career ladder and the need for ways to establish that. Because of that, a lot of teachers have been immediately turned off by the idea, [even though] they don't really fully understand what we have in mind.
Q:You seem to be advancing a position, in advocating the idea of differentiated staffing, that the teachers' unions have warmed to in recent weeks.
A:Well now, you're bringing in a new term. I didn't use the term differentiated staffing. You did. I'm talking about academic rank. There's a difference between that and differentiated staffing.
Q:What is it?
A:We don't assign university professors certain administrative duties. And we don't say to the univeristy professor, 'Now that you're a full professor, you've got to work for 11 months rather than a regular academic year.'
Q:You want to keep master teachers in the classroom, keep them doing the same thing they are doing, but pay them more?
A:Yes. I suppose I would advocate assigning a student trainee or an intern teacher to work under a master teacher. And there may be other things a cadre of master teachers could do. But the Charlotte-Mecklenburg proposal is a differentiated staffing plan, where you do extra work for extra pay.
Q:So that's not a model that you would endorse?
A:I think there's a big difference between differentiated staffing and learning and adapting the concept of academic rank to the elementary and secondary schools.