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Panel Reports Ample Action on Teaching

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Professional organizations and policymakers at all levels of government have engaged in a blizzard of activity during the past year designed to improve teaching, says a report released here last week that also finds little progress has been made on some of the toughest problems.

"Doing What Matters Most: Investing in Quality Teaching" follows the widely discussed report released last fall by the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future. Linda Darling-Hammond, the commission's executive director, wrote the follow-up study to summarize progress toward the panel's goal: ensuring a high-quality teacher for every classroom.

The 26-member panel chaired by Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina called last September for changes in the way teachers are prepared, recruited, selected, and inducted into the profession and in how schools support, assess, and reward their work. ("Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push," Sept. 16, 1997.)

Since that time, 24 states have passed legislation addressing some aspect of teaching, the new report says. The most ambitious efforts are those in North Carolina and Ohio, which have put in place comprehensive systems that raise standards for teacher education, provide mentors for beginning teachers, and set higher standards for licensing.

Five legislative proposals to improve teacher education are pending in Congress, the report notes, and the Department of Education has awarded contracts for two major research centers on teaching. "Americans seem ready to work on this agenda," the report concludes.

Just in the past few weeks, four of the nation's largest states have taken steps to upgrade their teaching corps.

The Darling-Hammond report cites research, results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study to make the case that teachers' expertise is linked to higher student achievement.

"The single most productive investment we can make is to improve the level of teachers' education," Ms. Darling-Hammond said in releasing the report at a press conference and symposium here.

But the least-qualified teachers continue to be disproportionately assigned to schools with low-income and minority students--the very students who need expert teachers, she said.

Urban Initiative

To address that problem, the Ford Foundation has given the national commission $1 million for an "urban initiative" designed to help city districts recruit and keep well-qualified teachers.

The San Antonio, San Diego, and New York City school systems have signed on to work with the commission. They will be joined--through the Teacher Union Reform Network--by Albuquerque, N.M.; Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo, Ohio; Hammond, Ind.; Minneapolis; Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y.; and Seattle. The network, known as turn, brings together leaders from local affiliates of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Project participants will devise a strategy that districts can use to take an inventory of their methods for recruiting, preparing, selecting, hiring, and inducting teachers and providing them with continuing chances to learn. The project also will document and disseminate model programs.

Nationally, the new report says, more than 30 percent of beginning teachers leave in their first five years on the job. That proportion is even higher in some urban districts. In San Antonio, according to Superintendent Diana Lam, 80 percent of new teachers leave the district within five years.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey of Rochester said his district, for example, has been successful in retaining new teachers by assigning them mentors. After five years on the job, Mr. Janey said, 92 percent of new teachers are still working in Rochester schools since the mentoring program began.

The commission will work with several national partners in the urban initiative, including the National Urban League, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, the Council of the Great City Schools, and Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit organization based in Belmont, Mass.

Hugh B. Price, the president of the National Urban League and a member of the national commission, said his organization also plans a related campaign to "drive home the message that achievement matters as never before" for African-American youths."Nothing else matters if teachers can't hold up their end of the deal," he said. Without good teachers, "low-income youngsters don't have a prayer of meeting the standards."

Focus on Licensing

One way that policymakers are trying to ensure better teachers is to tighten requirements for earning a license, which is supposed to ensure that a teacher is ready to take charge of a classroom.

North Carolina, for example, has created a three-tiered system of initial, continuing, and advanced licenses tied to assessments of teachers' performance.

Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, and Massachusetts also enacted legislation to beef up licensing criteria. Many other states are at various stages of redesigning their licensing rules, the report notes, including Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Since research was completed for the report, other states have started the process of revising their policies in hopes of improving teacher quality.

New Jersey and Texas are moving toward demanding that teachers meet continuing education requirements to keep their licenses. ("N.J., Texas Eye Teacher-Continuing-Ed. Plans," Oct. 1, 1997.)

Only this month, New York's state board of regents approved a task force report calling for broad changes in teacher recruitment, preparation, entry to the profession, continued professional development, and on-the-job evaluation. After holding hearings across the state, the regents are scheduled to take final action next spring.

And in California, the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing is digesting more than 100 recommendations for improving the state's teaching force made this month by a 24-member advisory panel. The commission expects to prepare recommendations for legislative action to give the state school board early next year.

In the meantime, the California legislature this year increased funding, to $17.5 million, for a program that offers support for beginning teachers.

Other states have raised teachers' salaries, created incentives for them to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and provided money for professional-development schools, which are often compared to teaching hospitals.

Qualifications Vary

Teachers' qualifications now vary tremendously, Ms. Darling-Hammond's report says. On the bright side, in 1994 about 20 percent of all new entrants to teaching had a master's degree, compared with 9 percent in 1991.

And more than half the teachers with less than five years' experience report that they've taken part in a formal program to induct them into teaching, the study found. In contrast, only about 17 percent of teachers with more than 10 years' experience got similar help as beginners.

But the number of newly hired teachers without adequate training has not declined. Instead, the proportion of public school teachers who had not completed the requirements for a license in their main assignment field increased from 25 percent in 1991 to 27 percent in 1994, including nearly 11 percent who had no license at all.

In high-poverty schools, recent studies show, one-third of teachers taught without a minor in their main assignment field. Conversely, just 8 percent of public school teachers in low-poverty schools taught without a minor in their main academic assignment field.

Link to Achievement

Ms. Darling-Hammond and contributors to the report marshal evidence to show the link between good teachers and improved student achievement. This message, she argued in an interview, needed to be reiterated "as vividly as we could" for policymakers with a tendency to "slip back into fads like school uniforms, vouchers, and charter schools."

Reviews of more than 200 studies, the report says, "contradict the long-standing myths that 'anyone can teach' and that 'teachers are born and not made.'"

Over the past decade, it notes, states that worked to improve teaching--such as North Carolina and Connecticut--saw their students make more significant gains on NAEP than did states such as Georgia and South Carolina, which emphasized student testing. NAEP is the nation's only representative measure of student achievement in several core subjects.

And results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Studies "appear to be associated with levels of teacher preparation," the report says.

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