School & District Management

National Panel Urges Upgrades to Teacher Workforce

By Lesli A. Maxwell — November 04, 2009 5 min read
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A report from a high-powered education task force that calls for states and school districts to overhaul how they recruit, prepare, evaluate, and compensate teachers has raised the hackles of the American Federation of Teachers, which dismissed many of its recommendations as “top-down” and disrespectful of the profession.

AFT President Randi Weingarten’s sharp criticism of the report, released Tuesday by Strategic Management of Human Capital, came despite the participation of Ms. Weingarten and two other AFT officers in the 30-member task force that helped shape a series of 20 policy recommendations to improve the teaching corps in the nation’s 100 largest school districts. Some recommendations are aimed at improving the effectiveness of principals, but teachers are the overwhelming focus of the report.

“There weren’t many of us on the task force speaking for teachers, and I think the report reflects that, especially in the lack of emphasis on principal effectiveness,” said Francine Lawrence, the president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, an AFT affiliate, and a member of the panel. “It doesn’t speak to the professionalization of teaching at all, which is a real disappointment.”

The task force had a total of four teachers’ union representatives, including one from the National Education Association.

Strategic Management of Human Capital is a project of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education and is supported by funding from foundations. It is headed by Allan R. Odden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and James A. Kelly, the founding president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who chaired the task force over the course of the past year, said the panel had a “consensus on much of what’s in the report,” but explained that there had been no formal vote of its members to endorse the report because of some disagreements.

“We wanted the recommendations we put forth to be significant and specific, so we did not water it down in order to get agreement from everyone,” said Mr. Pawlenty, a Republican.

Other high-profile members of the task force included District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who served as a vice chair of the panel, and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

The ‘People Side’

In its recommendations to states, the task force calls for several sweeping changes in teacher policy.

It said raising the bar for who can enter undergraduate-level teacher education programs—perhaps by requiring a minimum score on the SAT or the ACT—is necessary to improve the talent that enters the profession. States also should require a rigorous content test before prospective teachers can earn an initial teaching license, it says. In addition, states should support, with policy and funding, more alternative pathways into teaching, such as Teach For America and the New Teacher Project, and should require all new teachers to go through an intensive induction or an internship experience that resembles a medical residency.

The report recommends that states adopt a multi-tiered licensing system; require evidence of effectiveness before granting tenure; and use performance-based evaluation systems to drive professional development and help reset teachers’ salary schedules. The task force’s final recommendation to states is to create performance-based evaluation and pay systems for principals.

In its recommendations for school districts, the report calls for local leaders to follow the lead of places like Chicago and Long Beach, Calif., to expand their pipelines for recruiting teachers, to eliminate decades-old practices of central-office-forced placements and seniority “bumping,” to develop intensive induction and mentoring programs for new teachers, and to revamp district-level human-resources operations.

Though the Strategic Management for Human Capital effort predates the election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan as the U.S. secretary of education, the group’s leaders said the administration’s emphasis on teacher effectiveness, especially in the $4 billion Race to the Top Fund grant competition, makes their strategies for the “people side” of public education even more urgent for states and districts to heed.

“These recommendations are intended to be a framework for states, and we hope that they will use it, especially as they prepare their Race to the Top applications,” said Mr. Odden.

“There is a high congruence of these issues with what Secretary Duncan has outlined for the Race to the Top,” said Mr. Kelly. “I think we are seeing widening acceptance among many education leaders on these issues.”

‘No Vision’?

But union officials said the report ignored much of the input they offered. Chiefly, said Ms. Lawrence of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, the task force’s recommendations don’t reflect what she said is the need to treat teachers as professional partners in school improvement efforts. Without that, she said, keeping the best people in the profession and enticing them to work in the highest-need schools will remain an unfulfilled goal.

“We need to design a variety of roles for teachers, especially when it comes to making decisions about how we are going to turn around our lowest-performing schools,” she said. “There’s no vision for that in this report.”

While agreeing with the report’s call for radically changing the way teachers are evaluated, Ms. Lawrence said she was disappointed that the task force gave no nod to the peer-review system that’s been in use in Toledo since the early 1980s. That system, she said, has probably “dismissed more teachers for incompetence” than all of the traditional evaluation systems being used in most urban districts.

One superintendent took issue with what he saw as the report’s main thrust: recruiting “the best and the brightest” people to become teachers.

“In our profession, not everyone can teach regardless of how smart they may be,” said David C. Ring Jr., the superintendent in Delmar, Del. “We need people who can relate to children.”

Gov. Pawlenty said that districts need to strike a better balance between teachers who are experts in their subject areas and those who are skilled in running their classrooms and relating to children.

“I don’t think we are in any danger at the moment of overemphasizing smart people going into teaching,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 11, 2009 edition of Education Week

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