School & District Management Opinion

Teach Oregon: Growing Great Teachers

By John Wilson — June 27, 2013 2 min read
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No one questions that the next generation of teachers will play different roles, will have some of the most high tech tools to support their teaching, will teach the most diverse group of American children, and will need a great deal of professional support to assure a high quality of teaching. But that next generation is being stifled in its growth by politicians who want less preparation, less dedication to teaching as a career, and less investment in teacher quality. Bridging that divide has required bold leaders to step up and show what can and must be done to support teacher development in the 21st century. You can find that leadership in Oregon.

Oregon has been blessed to have an independent education 501(c)3 called the Chalkboard Project, an entity devoted to making Oregon’s public schools the best in the nation. It would be great if every state had a similar advocate with no agenda other than the creation of great public schools. The Chalkboard Project offers high quality research and partners with educators and experts to pilot innovative reforms. It also provides citizens, educators, and policy-makers with legitimate, transparent, and honest information. In addition, this group respects teachers and their unions. It understands that reform is done with teachers and not to teachers, and it acts on that understanding.

The Chalkboard Project’s newest endeavor is an initiative called Teach Oregon. This will be a partnership between school districts and universities to create teacher development programs for a diverse workforce that will be effective in 21st century classrooms. In Oregon, 34 percent of students are identified as ethnic minority, but only 8 percent of the teachers are. By 2020, 33 percent of teachers will be new. The Teach Oregon pilots will assure the placement of student teachers with the most accomplished teachers. In addition, the universities will produce more bilingual and special education teachers. I suspect that there are many states that can relate to the needs Oregon is facing and can learn from the programs Oregon is developing.

The Chalkboard Project gave a total of $180,000 to five school district(s)/university(s) partnerships for the design phase. Each was as innovative and creative as their collaboration with stakeholders would allow. The components included exploring opportunities for middle and high school students who may be considering teaching; innovative models of clinical experience for college students; and new models of compensation and tuition reimbursement to recruit, reward, and support teacher candidates, cooperating teachers, and university supervisors. The design teams included teachers, administrators, university professors, and program administrators who developed the blueprint. The top designs will receive up to $250,000 per year for the three-year implementation phase.

If we wait for government to fund public education as needed, it will be a long wait. We need public-private partnerships for innovation. We need to research ideas, pilot their implementation, and listen to teachers and students as they evaluate the success and usefulness of new programs. Then government needs to bring to scale the best pilot programs to assure access and equity.

Oregon is tackling some serious challenges. We can learn from that state’s experience. Children in every state will be better served if we place the best teachers in all of their classrooms.

The opinions expressed in John Wilson Unleashed are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.