Teaching Profession Opinion

Conservatives, It’s Time for Us to Focus on Teacher Professionalism

5 policy facets of the teacher profession that lawmakers should consider
By Mary Scott Hunter, Mike Bileca & John Eichelberger — March 11, 2019 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

This is an exciting time of year for many state legislators. The states are where the hard work of education policymaking and reform is actually accomplished, and the critical period of the legislative session is happening right now for many states.

This is a time for state policymakers across the nation to consider what specific issues they will prioritize in the coming months. While every state faces unique challenges and will develop unique solutions (just as it should be in educational policy!), many are focused on a host of issues that all revolve around enhancing the profession—and professionalism—of teaching.

In the last year and right up to the moment as we write this, a huge amount of attention is being paid to teachers for their walkouts and strikes in states including Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, California, and Colorado. In spite of the attention, a much deeper and far-reaching discussion of what the future of the teaching profession could look like has been drowned out.

We know that conservative state lawmakers are intensely interested in this big-picture issue. We believe it is time for this discussion. We encourage our colleagues across the country to consider the many policy facets of teacher professionalism.

Here are five:

• Better tools and information. Imagine if a doctor only received patient X-rays or lab results months after making the critical clinical diagnosis. Nobody would find that acceptable, yet that is exactly the situation state policies routinely place teachers in. Critical information about the educational status of students is not available to teachers until well after the student is off to the next grade level. Even then, the information is so general it is of little use for designing an individualized course of instruction. State leaders should consider pursuing various solutions that will give teachers more real-time information that they, as professionals, can then act on in a timely fashion to the benefit of their students.

Imagine if a doctor only received patient X-rays or lab results months after making the critical clinical diagnosis."

• Better professional development. School districts currently spend millions of dollars on professional development that, unfortunately, accomplishes very little beyond checking off a box. It is bad enough that this wastes taxpayer funds and teacher time—both of which are scarce. The real travesty, however, is the opportunity cost. Policymakers should continue to examine alternative approaches to empower teachers and leaders at the school level, such as giving teachers more control over their development paths. Resources can then be used to help drive and enhance academic achievement.

• Professionalized pay, evaluation, and tenure systems. In any professional system, length of service is only one of many metrics that matter. The achievement of specialized rank and benefits—such as the award of tenure—are not automatically granted to anyone who just stays around long enough, regardless of the job. Compensation usually reflects a particular mix of critical factors, including experience and educational attainment, but these are far from being the sole driving factors.

There can also be more differentiation in pay. It is true that overall professionalism tends to raise overall compensation while creating significantly greater financial opportunities. State leaders should pursue ways to bring these constructive influences of professionalism—differentiated compensation, control over continuing education, and accountability—into the educational realm.

• Prioritize resources to improve instruction and academic achievement. In the past several decades, state leaders have dramatically increased state spending on K-12 education, according to 2016-2017 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet, too often these funds are not used to improve instruction directly. Policymakers should work to ensure that resources, such as money, time, attention, and budget increases, are allocated to prioritize academic achievement.

• Refocusing the profession. The recent Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision—which prevents teacher and other public employee unions from collecting agency fees from nonmembers—should help propel a new discussion on the teaching profession and the influence unions have on education policy and education reform. While nobody disputes the right of employees to join together to work on issues important to them, too often a dogmatic adherence to a collective-bargaining mentality thwarts common-sense innovation and reform in our schools. Legislators should continue their work to be sure their states actually adhere to this important new U.S. Supreme Court decision, in order to encourage a renewed focus on liberating teachers to become innovative leaders.

By enhancing teacher professionalism, states can improve their schools and student performance. We realize different states will focus on different teacher professionalism policies, but the overall goal is the same. States are where the rubber of educational policy meets the road. We cannot have a great school without great teachers. We call on conservative policymakers committed to improving education to reflect on these teacher policies, so that we can encourage great teachers and better student outcomes.

Related Tags:

Follow the Education Week Commentary section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Commentaries in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2019 edition of Education Week


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building Equity and Student Confidence
Shape equity, confidence, and success for your middle school students. Join the discussion and Q&A for proven strategies.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion I Quit Teaching for Ed Tech. Here's How It Turned Out
Before you leave the teaching profession for another career, here are some things to consider.
Amma Ababio
4 min read
Illustration of a professional woman at the door opening to a bright exterior with computer code in the air.
Teaching Profession In L.A., Teachers and Parents Raise Money for Striking Service Workers
Many service workers cannot afford to miss work during the three-day strike. Teachers and parents are stepping in to help.
Delilah Brumer, Daily Breeze
3 min read
Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, with Max Arias, executive director of the Service Employees International SEIU Local 99 union, speak to thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers and SEIU members rallying outside the LAUSD headquarters in Los Angeles Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
A crowd of attendees at a joint rally by United Teachers of Los Angeles and SEIU 99 gathers in front of City Hall on March 15, 2023, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
Teaching Profession Q&A Los Angeles Educators Are Set to Strike. Will Teachers Elsewhere Follow Suit?
Unions in cities have become more aggressive—and low wages coupled with a demand for talent are giving them leverage.
6 min read
Thousands of LAUSD education workers calling on LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to use the district’s $4.9 billion in reserves to invest in staff, students, and communities rally at Grand Park in front of Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles on March 15, 2023.
Thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District educators call on Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to use the district’s nearly $5 billion in reserves to invest in staff, students, and communities at a rally at the city's Grand Park on March 15, 2023.
Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News via TNS
Teaching Profession The Gender Pay Gap Is a Problem for Teachers, Too
Women dominate the profession. Men still make more.
5 min read
A conceptual image of a female being paid less than a male.
hyejin kang/iStock/Getty