Here’s a provocative guest post from Public Impact’s Bryan and Emily Hassel:
Our friends at Democrats for Education Reform and a long list of education reform organizations last week released their recommendations for ESEA reauthorization provisions addressing teacher quality.
Although we see nothing objectionable there, even if our nation managed to pass and fully implement such legislation over the coming decade, we would still be far behind where other nations that best us were a decade ago. Proposals by the other party tend to leave education up to state legislators, on whose watch education has plateaued and declined. What’s the alternative?
If our nation is remotely serious about being competitive economically, we need a well-educated populace whose skills and competencies match higher-value, higher-wage roles in the global marketplace. We do not need just to close U.S. racial and economic achievement gaps. We need every student who achieves standards to leap ahead.
The only way to accomplish that is to put excellent teachers, the top 20 to 25 percent who achieve well over today’s “year of learning progress,” in charge of every child’s learning—consistently. With today’s merely solid teachers, those who achieve a full year of progress, students who start behind stay behind, and those in the middle do not leap ahead. Moreover, the current teacher pool feeds the anemic principal pipeline, meaning excellent teachers are regularly pulled from instruction—or forced to work under inadequate leaders.
We see three major ways to induce the significant will needed to put an excellent teacher in charge of every child’s learning. We must, at the federal or state level:
- Limit who can teach to top high school graduates, with further screening for behavioral competencies of excellent teachers;
- Offer large financial incentives for districts, schools, and teachers when they produce high-growth learning; and
- Create a new civil right to excellent teachers, one that parents and students can enforce legally when a child is behind standards, not making a full year of progress annually, or has not had an excellent teacher in a subject for two years running.
We’re open to equally powerful ideas. Let’s hear them, but no more of the weaker versions that we all know from experience won’t get this field moving.
The only way to implement any of these reforms successfully, within budget and at scale, is to help excellent teachers increase their productivity: swap portions of their time with digital instruction so they can teach more classes; let them delegate nonessential tasks to other adults; use digital tools to save time on instructional monitoring and planning; put them in charge of other teachers; and let them have more students to nurture under their strong wings. Find discussion of these options and more in Seizing Opportunity at the Top (policy options to reach every child with excellent teachers), Opportunity at the Top (why we must), and 3X for All (how we can). This is not new: Other professionals, whose jobs and pay aren’t frozen into molds, started making these changes for themselves a half-century ago.
Public Impact, with help from teachers and others, will soon begin releasing designs that clarify how to make these changes in schools, within budget, and pay excellent teachers more for the additional children they reach. “How to” models will help, but without major policy changes to induce the will, all evidence is that schools simply won’t budge—not even the ones that already can (e.g., charter schools).
ESEA could also help. At a minimum, it could:
- Require states to identify excellent teachers immediately (even if full-blown evaluation systems take longer to develop);
- Require reporting of the percentage of students reached by teachers at each effectiveness level, not just the percentage of teachers at different effectiveness levels—rewarding places that increase the productivity of excellent teachers; and
- Make federal funding contingent on clearing barriers that keep excellent teachers from reaching more students, such as limits on their pay, class sizes, and non-teaching staff who could monitor digital instruction.
Absent will-inducing provisions, though, ESEA is grossly inadequate. Policy and political leaders at all levels: Our nation needs us to step up.
— Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel, Public Impact