School & District Management

New Harvard Network Will Tackle Teacher Quality’s ‘Non System’

By Stephen Sawchuk — October 06, 2015 2 min read
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A new Harvard University initiative, Transforming Teaching, will oversee projects to boost the coherence of the nation’s systems for scaling up great teaching.

The impetus behind the network is what a white paper, released by the group Oct. 5, calls the United States’ “non system” for supporting quality teaching.

First, it argues, there’s virtually no coherent research-and-development system for studying teaching and learning. Education scholars produce work read by other scholars, but not applied; Similarly, teachers have few opportunities to share their most successful techniques with others.

Second, there’s a drastic mismatch between what teachers learn in their preparation programs and in subsequent development (induction, inservice programs, etc.). Finally, the paper argues, current policy doesn’t support structures, like teacher career ladders, that would support R & D and its application in the field.

“This combination results in a situation in which student learning depends more on individual teacher skills than on the quality of the teaching profession as a whole, and students’ access to skilled teaching remains highly stratified by race and class,” write the report’s authors, Harvard Associate Professor Jal Mehta (at right) and colleagues.

It’s a fairly dense paper, so take a look at the whole thing, below.

To be sure, many of these themes have been explored elsewhere, including in my reporting for Education Week. (Take a look, for example, at our reporting on ineffective professional development, the lack of consensus about teacher-preparation curricula, the need for better mentoring for teacher candidates, and at “practice based” preparation programs that prioritize teacher skill.)

So what does Harvard want to contribute? It wants to be the hub or network for doing this kind of work, ensuring that what’s learned doesn’t get lost in the ether. For instance, a number of charter organizations now run their own preparation programs, but there are few opportunities for transferring what’s been learned from them into the hands of classroom teachers in regular schools.

The initiative’s leadership team includes a host of familiar names—Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Steven Farr of Teach For America, author Jon Saphier, former Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane, and others. There are a whole host of organizational sign-ons and individual endorsements too. (These folks don’t see eye to eye on everything, especially the role of test scores in evaluating teachers or preparation programs, so it’s a hopeful sign that they’re pulling together on this.)

Mehta says that the group is already starting to help its partners launch projects and devise some of its own, though mostly they aren’t public yet. We’ll keep you apprised as the work develops.

Photo: Harvard University’s Jal Mehta will head up the new project. Photo courtesy of Harvard.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.