“An Army of Teachers”

It should be no surprise that there was little real discussion of K-12 education at this week’s Democratic convention.  As we’re seeing in polls, education simply isn’t an issue on which people cast their national vote.  It isn’t a red-meat topic to rally the troops and build true excitement.  Despite all of the best attempts from groups like Ed in 08, education just didn’t register this week, and isn’t expected to register next week.

Sure, there were a few veiled references to No Child Left Behind and how it has saddled our schools.  Many speakers talked about the need for more student loans.  But other than a few sentences in former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s speech and in current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s remarks, education was an also-ran issue.
But last night, Barack Obama upped the ante.  Yes, his spoke globally on a range of issues, focusing mainly on the economy and on foreign policy.  Education, though, also popped up in his speech.  The most interesting line, perhaps, was his notion that, as president, he would recruit a “new army of teachers” for our schools.
We all have heard the stories about how more than half of all teachers will be retiring over the next five years.  We know that there is a teacher “shortage” out there, particularly in subjects such as math and science.  And we’ve seen the stories about school districts recruiting for new teachers outside of their state and even outside of the United States.  But it is a bold statement to say that the federal government is soon going to get into the business of identifying and recruiting a new “army of teachers.”
At a Jobs for the Future conference last fall, the Gates Foundation’s education director, Vicki Phillips, spoke of the Foundation’s need to get into the human capital business.  Few noticed the line, but it left a lasting impact on Eduflack.  Imagine the impact on teacher recruitment if the Gates Foundation put its money and its willpower behind the teacher recruitment, bringing individuals into the fold who can lead the new classrooms of the 21st century.  It was an interesting idea, an idea that hasn’t been fleshed out since Phillips tossed it into the pool.
Getting the federal government — and, thus, the U.S. Department of Education — makes it just a little more interesting.  Imagine an assistant secretary for teacher recruitment, leading an office that is looking at new incentives and alternative certifications and performance pay and teachers at charter schools.  I know I am jumping to conclusions here, but it is an interesting thought that the feds could soon be in the teacher recruitment business.
Yes, the chance if far greater that this is a line that will soon be forgotten and never adopted into policy.  In an Obama Administration, even if it moved forward, it could simply be an initiative run by the National Education Association, looking so much like efforts that have come before it.  
Or it could just be a bold way to truly improve education, putting everything on the table and making clear that the teacher in front of the classroom is the most important component to student achievement.  It could redefine how we think of a qualified, effective teacher.  And it could re-energize a new generation to become classroom teachers.

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