Bringing Professional Development Into the 21st Century
Our school systems are broken, but everyone seems to have his or her favorite villain rather than a strategic approach to producing positive student outcomes. Unions, teachers, districts, parents, politics, school choice, and competition all play a role, but the blame game doesn’t address the core problem. Here’s the reality: If we fix public education, every child will have an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty, and the United States will have an opportunity to play a role in the global knowledge economy. The challenge is determining the real source of the problem and providing a solution that works for every school in the nation. And those are no small tasks.
Research suggests the problems lie not with the students but with the adults. Teacher-performance research clearly illustrates we have a teaching problem in school districts. It suggests the quality of a classroom teacher is the single most important element in a child’s success. Given such data, one might conclude there are more suboptimal teachers than great ones. But let’s not immediately point fingers at teachers. Arguably, most enter the profession hoping to have an impact on children, yet a third leave after three years, and 50 percent after five years. The heart of the problem is that there are too many poorly trained administrators, principals, and teachers. In most industries, people are considered the most important asset, and corporate leaders ensure they are trained to do their jobs effectively. Public schools should be no different.
However, most foundations and policymakers have focused on accountability and evaluation rather than training. The assumption: If we measure teachers more effectively, we can get rid of the bad ones. The problem is too deep and systemic, though. In short, we cannot fire or hire our way out of this problem. The statistics suggest that if we develop a support system for principals and teachers to train them effectively, we will change education culture, retain new educators more effectively, enhance the performance of existing staff members, and identify those who, despite effective training, can’t meet standards and...
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