Teaching Profession

Department Initiative Seeks To Help Teachers Share Ideas

By Michelle R. Davis — April 28, 2004 4 min read
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The Department of Education last week unveiled plans for a “Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative” aimed at helping educators and education experts share ideas about raising student achievement.

The federal agency intends to host teacher roundtables, summer workshops, and summits, and send out e-mails to teachers providing information on the latest policy and research.

A new federal Web site is available, too: www.teacherquality.us.

“Teachers want to know what to do, but they need help,” Raymond J. Simon, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said during an April 21 conference call with reporters. He said support for teachers varies in different parts of the country, and the endeavor will give them additional help and information.

The initiative builds on the work of the Teacher Assistance Corps, which Secretary of Education Rod Paige formed last year to support state efforts to meet the “highly qualified” teacher requirements in the No Child Left Behind Act.

The law calls for public schools to ensure highly qualified teachers in all classrooms by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Through the Teacher Assistance Corps, former teachers and other education officials made site visits across the country to help explain the law, collect information on innovative initiatives and unique local situations.

Included in the new venture will be a teacher summit sometime in July, with workshops for teachers to share details of how they closed the achievement gap and how to incorporate new strategies in the classroom.

Teachers can apply to be speakers or to attend the conferences and workshops through the new Web site, Mr. Simon said. Federal money will pay for the meetings themselves, and Mr. Simon said he hopes that states will chip in to reimburse teachers for travel expenses. During discussions across the country with teachers, the assistant secretary asserted that everyone agreed on the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, but “there’s fear that it can’t be done.” The teacher initiative should help, he said.

Translating Into Action

The department’s announcement came the same day that the House Education and the Workforce Committee convened a hearing on highly qualified teachers and the No Child Left Behind law.

Kurt M. Landgraf, the president and chief executive officer of the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, offered several recommendations to promote competence in the nation’s teacher workforce. He drew on an issues paper his nonprofit company, which produces teacher tests, released last week.

He said states should re-evaluate their teacher- licensure programs and begin raising their entry standards, including the passing scores on licensure exams. He called for all states to establish induction programs for new teachers, offer continuous professional development, and place a greater emphasis on evaluating both the content knowledge of teachers, as No Child Left Behind focuses on, and their teaching skills.

Ross E. Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, reiterated his argument that the Education Department “has not shown sufficient leadership” on teacher-quality issues.

“The [agency] needs to better meet its responsibilities to explain the teacher-quality provisions, monitor compliance, and share best practices,” he said. “This last responsibility is critically important to conveying a sense of hope and possibility in the face of critics who claim the law’s goals are unreachable or unreasonable.”

He also offered some advice for Congress, including the suggestion that lawmakers commission a study by the General Accounting Office—the legislative branch’s investigative arm—of how states and districts are spending the nearly $3 billion in federal aid made available for teacher-quality grants.

In an interview later, Mr. Wiener said one of his worries is that those dollars may not be reaching the high-poverty schools that need the most help in ensuring high-caliber teachers.

“It’s very unclear how [the program] is translating into action in the field,” he said, suggesting the study could be helpful on several levels.

“We could start to understand the places where it’s really helping,” Mr. Wiener said. “And we could also better understand where it’s not helping enough, either because there aren’t enough resources, or because it’s not being implemented in a constructive way.”

‘Record’ Aid

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House education committee, argued that the law has delivered a lot of money to help states and districts place highly qualified teachers in all classrooms.

“Since No Child Left Behind was enacted more than two years ago, Congress and the president have continued to provide record teacher- quality aid to states and local school districts, at levels far higher than provided prior to enactment of the bill,” Mr. Boehner said.

But Rep. George Miller of California, the panel’s top Democrat, said the federal aid still falls short.

“I do not believe that we have provided … adequate funding to do this,” he said.

Funding for the Improving Teacher Quality grants, part of the No Child Left Behind Act, was unchanged between fiscal 2003 and 2004, at $2.9 billion, and President Bush has requested the same level for fiscal 2005, which begins Oct. 1.

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