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Giving Teachers the Reins

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To attract more high-quality teachers to disadvantaged schools, policymakers and school officials need to ensure that such educators have the freedom to exercise their skills and knowledge fully in their new classrooms, award-winning Mississippi-Delta teacher Renee Moore told an audience on Capitol Hill in Washington this week.

Speaking at a panel discussion on teacher effectiveness organized by the Forum for Education and Democracy on Oct. 22, Moore said that many proven educators have a “justifiable suspicion” that, if they take a position in a high-needs school, their work will be hampered by the curriculum restrictions and administrative mandates that are common in struggling schools.

To illustrate, Moore, the 2001 Mississippi Teacher of the Year, recounted a time when a principal in a high school she was working at remonstrated her for assigning oral presentations and research papers to students in her English class and ordered her to focus instead on test preparation. The administrator even sent monitors to her classroom to ensure that she was complying, she said.

Moore also noted that when she meets accomplished teachers at conferences and awards ceremonies, they often tell similar tales of having “to be subversive to be effective” in their work. “What does that tell you?” she asked the audience of association workers and policy mavens gathered in an august meeting room in the U.S. Library of Congress.

“Teachers don’t want to be in a place where [they] can’t do what [they] know is needed,” said Moore, a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, whose members contribute a weekly column to Teacher.

Resource Disparities

In addressing the issue of teacher quality in high-needs schools, Moore also decried the resource disparities between schools in different neighborhoods and criticized current teacher-evaluation systems, which she said employ “outdated tools [and] outdated language,” when they exist at all. She pointed to the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards' certification process as a possible model for effective teacher-evaluation systems.

Moore’s was one of four presentations at the forum that looked at gaps in teacher staffing and effectiveness. Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, set the tone by reviewing some stark data on the relationship between the inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers in U.S. schools and the achievement gap between disadvantaged and better-off students. In a disturbing pattern, she said, low-income minority students are far more likely to get inexperienced or underqualified teachers.

Angela Valenzuela, associate vice president of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas, then pointed to the need to reconfigure teacher-preparation and –recruitment systems to equip schools for the fast-growing numbers of underserved Latino and English-language-learner students in the nation.

In a closing presentation, Linda Darling Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University, highlighted what she called inefficient and inequitable education spending in the country. She called for resources to be directed to the creation a new infrastructure for the teaching profession modeled after programs in high-achieving countries like Finland and Singapore.

Such a system, she said, would provide state-of-the-art teacher-preparation programs, financial support for education students, higher salaries for teachers, mentoring and reduced teaching loads for new teachers, and 15-20 hours a week for professional learning and collaboration with colleagues for all teachers. The total cost to the government, Darling Hammond estimated, would be $4 billion annually—less, she said, than what the United States spends in one month on the Iraq war.

Moore, at the outset of her remarks, thanked the organizers for including a teacher on the panel, saying it was essential for teachers to have a voice in education reform discussions. “You go back and tell that to whoever you need to,” she told audience members in a distinct teacher’s tone.

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