Teaching Profession

Businesses Seek Teacher ‘Renaissance’

By Jeff Archer — February 07, 2001 7 min read
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Calling for “a renaissance in teaching,” a coalition of national business groups pledged last week to put as much energy into a new campaign to improve teacher quality as corporate leaders have put behind the movement to raise academic standards.

Led by the National Alliance of Business, the organizations launched their initiative here with the release of a report, “Investing in Teaching,” that presents a road map for upgrading the way teachers are prepared, compensated, and supported in their jobs.

Among the proposals are higher standards for entering the field, new opportunities for career advancement within teaching, and salaries that are competitive with those of other professions and are based on job performance.

Carrying out the plan will require “substantial new investments,” and could take “the better part of this decade to accomplish,” the report suggests. Along with the other sponsors of the project—the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the NAB promises to push the agenda at the state and federal levels in a series of meetings with policymakers in the coming months.

For More Information

The report, “Investing in Teaching,” is available from the Business Roundtable, one of the coalition members. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“This is a first step in a process that, if we are successful, five or 10 years from now we will have been able to incorporate this comprehensively across the country,” said NAB chairman Keith Bailey. “And if we do it well, I think that the outcomes that we’ll get from it will be remarkable.”

Although other national groups have issued calls over the past decade and a half to raise the status of the teaching profession, some observers say the business organizations behind the new initiative bring the potential for adding considerable momentum to the cause. Corporate leaders have been a potent force behind states’ efforts to set new standards for student performance.

“The business community has been very important over the last decade in moving the school improvement agenda forward,” said Christopher T. Cross, the president of the Washington-based Council for Basic Education and an assistant education secretary under former President George Bush. “So if they get behind something, it has some staying power.”

A Problem of Prestige

The campaign that kicked off last week grew out of the 1999 National Education Summit in Palisades, N.Y. A consensus emerged among the governors, captains of industry, and education leaders in attendance that an overhaul of the teaching profession was needed to ensure that students were able to succeed on the new academic assessments that many states have put in place.

Before drafting their report, the four business groups charged with designing a strategy spent a year meeting with educators, corporate executives, and officials from schools of education. Based on their analysis, they argue that what’s needed is not just a new set of skills for teachers, but also new incentives and a new level of prestige to ensure that the field can attract and keep high-caliber people.

While the report offers no estimate of the plan’s overall cost—nor does it specifically suggest how much teachers should be paid—it does stress that the strategy requires more than a mere reallocation of current spending.

Roberts Jones, the president and chief executive officer of the NAB, said that the system could be overhauled so that “it wouldn’t be unusual to see [some] teachers in a school making $100,000 a year.”

But he also stressed that the plan should be viewed as a package deal. Higher salaries shouldn’t be forthcoming unless new mechanisms are put in place to tie pay to results, he argued, and teachers should not be held to new performance standards unless they’re also given the time to get the training they need.

But not all elements of the plan would require new spending. For example, it says that schools of education should raise their entrance requirements, and that all teacher-candidates should major in an academic subject, instead of just education. It also argues that policymakers should ensure that teacher-preparation programs and teachers’ professional development are aligned to the new standards that states have set for students.

The groups’ report also supports expansion of nontraditional routes into teaching that allow individuals to enter the profession without having attended a school of education. But it warns that such alternative- licensure programs should not be used as a “cut-rate path to teaching.”

The report cites instances in which each of its proposals has already been put in place, such as a new pay system in Cincinnati that ties salary increases to evaluations of teachers’ job performance. Another is the Milken Family Foundation’s Teacher Advancement Program, a pilot program in five Arizona schools that gives teachers the chance to take on new leadership roles in their buildings.(“Teacher Re-Creation,” Jan. 10, 2001.)

What’s needed, the business leaders say, is to make such innovations the norm in the profession, and to do so in a way that all of the changes called for are put in place together.

Contradictory Aims?

The proposals laid out by the business groups generally drew praise from education officials and organizations last week.

“I think they make a rather obvious point, which is that each one of these ideas is happening, but if they happen in isolation, then they’ll be completely ineffective,” said Ann L. Duffy, the associate commissioner for educator quality for the Massachusetts Department of Education.

In recent years, the Bay State has moved to implement some of the elements in the new report, such as rigorous exams for beginning teachers, alternative routes into teaching aimed at attracting professionals from other fields, and licensure criteria based more on teachers’ classroom performance than on the kinds of coursework they have completed.

Joan Baratz-Snowden, the acting director of the American Federation of Teachers’ educational issues department, said the business groups’ agenda “seems to embrace a lot of AFT policy.” In a series of recommendations unveiled last spring, the union suggested raising the bar for those applying to teacher-preparation programs, creating more rigorous teacher- licensure tests, and requiring that all education school students major in an academic subject.

Meanwhile, among the recommendations in a legislative action plan announced last week by the National Education Association was a call for $3 billion in federal funds to be spent over five years for, among other items, induction programs for new teachers, incentives for educators to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and programs for training educational support personnel to become full-fledged teachers.

While some union locals have opposed specific performance-related pay plans—and the NEA has adopted an official stance against such arrangements— Ms. Snowden said union members might accept new compensation systems if the plans were accompanied by additional total dollars for teacher pay.

“If you’re going to steal from Peter to pay Paul, that’s not good,” she said. “But if you have an adequate base and a way to enhance it, then that’s great.”

But others viewed the business group’s agenda with some caution. Bob Peterson, a 5th grade teacher in Milwaukee, said he worries about efforts to better align teacher pay, evaluation, and training with the kinds of student standards many states have adopted.

“I find their report somewhat contradictory,” said Mr. Peterson, who is also an editor of Rethinking Schools, a teacher-written newspaper. “They call for teachers to have more authority to teach, but when you start talking about pay for performance and high levels of accountability, generally in practice that translates into increasingly rigid assessment procedures, which in turn straitjacket what teachers can do. Either we have to have a much more creative approach to assessment and accountability or their promise of teacher flexibility is just rhetoric.”

Regardless of such concerns, business leaders are wasting no time moving forward with the plans outlined in “Investing in Teaching.” Last week, representatives of the four groups met with Capitol Hill leaders here in an effort to make sure that major education legislation that comes out of the current Congress reflects their proposals.

All 50 governors have been sent a copy of the report, and its sponsors expect some states to hold their own summits around the issue, similar to the state-level gatherings that have followed the national education summits held over the past decade or so.

The business groups also plan to follow up with a “report card” that will show each state’s progress toward adopting the changes the groups proposed.

A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Businesses Seek Teacher ‘Renaissance’


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