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Published in Print: February 16, 2005, as Groups Tackle Teacher Quality in Needy Schools

Groups Tackle Teacher Quality in Needy Schools

Coalition Wants More Attention Focused on Hiring and Retaining Good Teachers

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Representatives of three education organizations announced last week they will work together to focus more national attention, research, and resources on the problem of hiring and keeping good teachers in traditionally low-performing schools.

The National Partnership for Teaching in At-Risk Schools was officially launched here on Feb. 9. Leading the initiative are the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, the Educational Testing Service, of Princeton, N.J., and Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit education consulting group in Naperville, Ill.

The partnership will develop a Web site and a home for data-gathering, research, and public-policy work with the goal of providing better-trained teachers for students who often need the most help. Staff members from each partnering organization will contribute time to the new project.

American education provides “a perverse, reverse-incentive system” that pays teachers more and provides better work environments in more affluent neighborhoods, when children in poor communities often need great teachers the most, said Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a former ECS chairman who also is chairing the new partnership.

Gov. Warner said the partnership, which he helped unveil, would seek additional partners in focusing attention on the problem of hard-to-staff schools.

The Democrat added he wants to draw the interest of the public, policymakers, and private foundations. “If we’re going to elevate the discussion on hard-to-staff schools to a national level, no organization can do it alone,” he said.

Michael Nettles, the ETS vice president who oversees the testing organization’s Policy Evaluation and Research Center, said providing an excellent teacher for every student in the nation is an achievable as well as important goal. If it’s reached, he said, “we could truly change the world, couldn’t we?”

The partnership released its inaugural report last week: “Qualified Teachers for At-Risk Schools: A National Imperative.” It cites studies showing that inexperienced teachers are more likely to teach in high-poverty schools, and that high-poverty schools traditionally have had far fewer teachers with subject-area expertise than low-poverty schools.

Trickling Down

Panelists at last week’s announcement held up Virginia as an example of a state that hopes to curb staffing problems in traditionally struggling schools.

Coalition Goals

The National Partnership for Teaching in At-Risk Schools unveiled a sweeping agenda last week.

Information: A national information clearinghouse, a Web site, an annual national conference, and regular progress reports are planned.

Research: The group plans to synthesize existing research on teacher quality, conduct new studies, and review new research on related topics.

Policy: The partnership will work with states and school districts on policy development, and collaborate with national organizations and teachers' colleges to help improve training for college graduates who will work with academically at-risk students.

Resources: The group aims to provide information that will increase the effectiveness of state and local spending on teaching in at-risk schools, and to build the national capacity to improve teaching in those schools.

Jo Lynne DeMary, the state’s education superintendent, spoke of Gov. Warner’s pilot program that pays bonuses for teachers who accept jobs or agree to stay in two participating school systems that have struggled to find and hire qualified teachers.

Ms. DeMary said that the districts often have had dozens of teacher openings each year, but that this year’s incentives have cut the turnover rate dramatically.

“So, it’s working,” said Stanley Jones, the superintendent of the 3,800-student Caroline County, Va., school district, about 75 miles south of Washington. It is one of the pilot districts.

Virginia’s program, which Mr. Warner acknowledged is in its “infancy,” offers teachers with at least five years’ experience and a record of improving student achievement hiring bonuses of $15,000. The teachers must stay in the hard-to-staff schools for three years.

Also, teachers in the pilot districts who have five years’ experience and academic degrees in the subjects they teach receive annual $3,000 bonuses just for staying. The schools themselves can earn extra state money if they reach test-score goals.

The program is bolstering teachers’ morale, said Walter Clemmons, the assistant superintendent of the other pilot district, the 1,400-student Franklin, Va., schools, southwest of Norfolk.

Vol. 24, Issue 23, Page 5

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