Published Online: January 30, 2007
Published in Print: January 31, 2007, as A Teaching ‘Marshall Plan’


A Teaching ‘Marshall Plan’

Ignoring Research to Revive an Old Debate?

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To the Editor:

Linda Darling-Hammond’s call for a “Marshall Plan” for teaching did a nice job of framing the need to get more effective teachers into the nation’s most troubled schools, but failed to address some of the fundamental challenges for realizing quality public education for all American children ("A Marshall Plan for Teaching," Commentary, Jan. 10, 2007).

The suggestion of an additional $3 billion for teacher education and retention seems like an expensive Band-Aid that will do little to alter the intrinsic quality of those who enter and stay in the profession. I doubt that a few scholarships and a focus on recruitment will do much to fundamentally enhance the quality of the teacher pipeline. The problems lie deeper.

While high-quality, site-based professional development and assessments may have some impact on quality, they likely will do little to solve the problems of placement and retention. These problems are rooted more in teachers’ working conditions and unions’ work rules. Few of the best teachers are willing to stay in the classroom when they are paid less than other professionals and forced to work under a factory set of detailed work rules that assume learning can be managed through seat time, like the manufacturing of widgets. Few good doctors, architects, or lawyers would be willing to work with so little autonomy and accountability for their work.

It’s high time we had a national dialogue about how to radically improve the quality and training of people entering teaching. We will need to modify the career track, so that there is flexibility beyond a static, stepped advancement, or joining the administration. Most professions have autonomy, accountability, and a diverse set of career pathways.

Improving teacher quality will require fundamental changes in compensation, tenure, pensions, and working conditions if policymakers are serious about getting our best adults to support our most challenged kids. I hope that all of us—teachers, unions, researchers, and policymakers—can get beyond the usual turf wars and begin to work on this serious national-security issue.

If it were up to me, I’d invest billions in changing these structural problems before trying to pump up the existing low-performing teacher-certification systems for better results.

Van Schoales
Program Officer
Piton Foundation
Denver, Colo.

To the Editor:

Linda Darling-Hammond makes a number of factual errors in her description of a value-added study of student achievement conducted by Thomas J. Kane, Jonah E. Rockoff, and Douglas O. Staiger. More troubling than her misrepresentation of the results of that study, however, is her attempt to stoke the fires of the outdated and counterproductive “pathways” debate.

Recent unbiased and quantitatively rigorous research from Mr. Kane and his colleagues, as well as from James H. Wyckoff and colleagues and Mathematica Policy Research Inc., has demonstrated conclusively that pathways into teaching (traditional certification, the New Teacher Project’s fellows programs, Teach for America) are, in one important way, much more similar than dissimilar—all bring comparable numbers of teachers across the spectrum of effectiveness into our nation’s classrooms.

The challenge for the educational research and policy community is now laid out clearly before us: How can we get more and better teachers into our schools, regardless of their route of entry? If the differences in quality within each pathway are 10 times as great as the differences in quality between pathways (as the Kane group estimates), then it is time to spend 10 times more energy answering the real questions before us than we do rehashing the tired and irrelevant “pathways” questions.

Michelle Rhee
Chief Executive Officer and President
The New Teacher Project
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The self-importance of Linda Darling-Hammond is astounding. She breezily compares the failure of school systems to retain new teachers to trying to fill a leaky bucket. Yet she doesn’t attribute the leaky-bucket imagery to Professor Richard M. Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania, who first came up with this powerful analogy in his well-regarded teacher studies.

Ms. Darling-Hammond cannot be unaware of Mr. Ingersoll’s work. Evidently, however, she is unaware of research done by the New York City Department of Education’s division of human resources, which commissioned three reports, beginning in 2002, on a cohort of newly hired teachers. These studies examined issues of preparation, attrition patterns, and reasons for teachers’ quickly leaving their jobs.

Perhaps Ms. Darling-Hammond should read these sobering reports before she makes further sweeping pronouncements about what new teachers need to survive; the costs to students of poorly trained, revolving-door teachers; and the inequities that befall our most vulnerable children.

Fred Smith
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Vol. 26, Issue 21, Page 34

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