Teaching Profession

Governors Seek to Improve Teacher Quality

By Alan Richard — June 23, 2004 4 min read
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Governors promised to redouble their efforts to improve teaching quality last week during a meeting convened by a former governor who hopes to encourage state leaders as they proceed with the task.

If former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. gets his way, every governor will be taking serious action to make sure better teachers are working in every classroom—especially those with the neediest students—and would get paid more when their students’ test scores improve.

Governors from 10 states and three U.S. territories, along with three former members of their fraternity, met June 10-13 at a resort in Asheville, N.C., to share ideas and hear from experts on teacher quality.

“If we’re going to achieve the goal of No Child Left Behind in 10 years, we’ve got to make a focus on teaching primary, and governors have to lead the effort to improve teaching dramatically,” Mr. Hunt, a Democrat, said in an interview.

Organized by the James B. Hunt Institute of Educational Leadership and Policy, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the conference was hosted by the former governor, a longtime advocate of initiatives to upgrade the teaching profession in his state and nationally.

Mr. Hunt helped found the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which certifies teachers who show mastery in their subjects.

At the four-day gathering, Republicans and Democrats alike touted improving teaching quality as one of their most important policy issues

Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota called attention to teaching quality as “one of the most important set of issues facing the country” during a conference call with reporters, who were excluded from the meeting.

Good Scores, More Pay?

One of the hottest topics in the debate over teaching quality is the issue of paying more to teachers for a variety of reasons, such as working in hard-to-staff schools, raising student test scores, or for earning new credentials.

Mr. Hunt urged states and governors at the conference to give performance pay a careful look. “Teachers whose students learn more should be paid more, and there are some very promising ways to do that being developed in the country today,” he said.

Some forms of performance pay for teachers have already spread to several states. And one major school district, Denver, may adopt a plan with a number of performance elements if voters approve hiking the property tax in 2005. (“Next Pay-Plan Decision Up to Denver Voters,” March 31, 2004.)

Arizona entered the performance-pay arena during the most recent school year, after a voter-approved ballot initiative required schools districts to establish local performance-pay programs. The law allows districts a great deal of latitude in how they establish those programs.

Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona said during last week’s conference call that the quality of the districts’ performance-pay plans in her state seems to vary. “There’s great disparity among districts,” the Democrat said, adding that her state needs “to see if we can get some kind of uniformity.”

Mr. Hunt touts the North Carolina model, begun in 1996 during his administration, that offers annual $1,500 incentives for teachers in schools that exceed test-score goals.

Florida offers its own version of bonuses for schools with improved test scores, while leaders in Texas and Iowa have recently debated performance pay for teachers.

Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty wants to pay teachers who work in struggling schools up to $100,000 and build faster paths for mathematics and science professionals to enter teaching. The Republican governor has met resistance from the Democratic-controlled legislature, which so far has rejected his proposals.

“There was at least the beginnings of some consensus” among Minnesota legislators on teaching-quality efforts, Mr. Pawlenty said, noting that he hoped to implement some changes through state regulations or a statewide charter school district that could offer pilot teacher-pay programs.

Unions and Universities

The 2.7 million-member National Education Association opposes paying teachers based on individual student test scores, said Tom Blanford, the union’s associate director for teacher quality.

The NEA backs differentiated pay for teachers who earn national certification, work in low-rated schools, or take on extra duties or credentials, Mr. Blanford said.

While the NEA does not endorse the North Carolina system, the union has warmed to it because it rewards student growth and offers bonuses for entire schools, not individual teachers.

Keeping good teachers working in schools and building better teacher-training colleges also were debated by the governors last week.

Mr. Hunt said retaining high-caliber teachers has become an increasingly essential policy issue for governors. “There’s a hole in the bottom of the bucket, and much of our investment in educating and inducting good teachers is lost because so many of them drop out of the teacher force,” he said.

Brad Jupp, a Denver teacher who helped plan his city’s performance-pay system, said during the conference call it will take more than pay schemes to improve teaching: “They’ll stay if the leader is good, regardless of the money.”

Several state officials said they are working on ways to link K-12 schools, state agencies, and universities in ways to help produce better teachers—and more of them. Education advisers to Republican Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevy, a Democrat, noted their states’ efforts to link the different players in higher education to improve teacher preparation.

But Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee said last week that changes in higher education won’t improve teaching quickly. “While we need to make changes in higher education, it’s not so clear to me what direction we should be driving things,” he said.


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