Experts Urge Creation of ‘America’s Teacher Corps’

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 15, 2010 2 min read
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A high-powered panel of teacher-quality experts released a paper this morning proposing a new federal program called America’s Teacher Corps that they claim would recognize the best teachers, reduce interstate barriers to teaching, increase access of students in high-poverty school to highly effective teachers, and make the profession more attractive to newcomers.

The paper’s authors include some of the biggest names in teacher-effectiveness research and evaluation: Steven Glazerman, an analyst with Mathematica Policy Research; Dan Goldhaber, a researcher at the University of Washington; Susanna Loeb, a professor at Stanford University; Douglas Staiger, from Dartmouth University; and Grover Whitehurst, former director of the Institute of Education Sciences, now at Brookings.

The new federal program that the authors advocate would represent a change from current teacher programs such as the Teacher Incentive Fund, which require applications from interested districts. America’s Teacher Corps would appeal directly to teachers, who would then be “nominated” by their districts, based on whether they earned an average evaluation score in the top quartile of teachers on their past three evaluations.

Successful applicants would be eligible for a $10,000 salary supplement from the federal government, contingent on working in a high-poverty school. They’d also receive a portable credential allowing them to bypass credentialing barriers in other states if they decided to move. The authors posit that such barriers, even in those states with reciprocity agreements, hinder people from staying in the profession, and they propose requiring states that accept Title I funds to establish an expeditious mechanism for certifying ATC teachers.

Before you can scream, “What about National Board certification!?,” the paper recognizes that program and some of its recent challenges. Teachers who receive certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards don’t always work in the most challenging school environments (although the group is working hard to change that). And incentive bonuses for holding the NBPTS credential are paid out primarily by districts and states, where they can be subject to the whims of the economy.

The paper’s authors estimate that perhaps 37,500 teachers would be eligible in the program’s first year.

It wouldn’t be a Teacher Beat post without some discussion of potential pitfalls in this proposal. For one, the program is contingent on really good evaluation systems at the local level capable of using multiple measures to distinguish great teaching from good or merely adequate teaching. Most districts don’t have those, and in the few districts that made efforts to put in finely tuned systems, such as Cincinnati in the early 2000s, the scores tended to drift upward over time. (To be fair, this paper notes that the program could serve as a way to accelerate the development of better evaluation systems.)

Also, would states really want a certification with this level of portability? In theory, they should, but remember that they’re the bodies in charge of certification, and relinquishing control is hard to do. Perhaps it would take a few leader states to demonstrate the credential’s value before others signed on.

And finally, it’s hard to tell exactly what the federal government is going to do with the teacher-quality programs currently on the books. The proposed FY 2011 budget provided a few clues, but we won’t really know what’s what until Congress gets moving on the FY 2011 budget and ESEA reauthorization.

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