After a few days, the dust is finally settling on the supposed deal between Michelle Rhee and the teachers’ union in Washington, DC. By now, we’ve all heard the Cliff Notes version — significantly increased teacher pay, performance bonuses, elimination of full protection of tenured teachers’ jobs from budget cuts, huge financial assistance from national philanthropies.
A year ago, we thought the deal was dead as a doornail. Earlier this week, a tentative agreement was reached (the members of the DC union still have to vote. As always, Bill Turque of The Washington Post has terrific coverage of the issue, starting with the announcement story from earlier this week here
and a very interesting story
this AM about how former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke served as consigliere to bring this final deal over the finish line.
Whether intentional or not, the trio of chairs for the Education Equality Project — NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, UNCF President/CEO Michael Lomax, and NCLR President/CEO Janet Murguia — weigh in
on the general topic this morning’s Washington Post in a strongly worded commentary on the need for “great teachers” in historically disadvantaged schools.
The EEP trio offers up a three-point plan on great teachers and improved student outcomes:
* Attract teachers who performed well in college
* Create systems that reward excellence (including making it “easier to remove teachers who are shown to be ineffective”)
* Do more to attract teachers to high-needs students, schools, and subject areas (including ELL and special education)
Obviously, this is not the first time we have heard these tenets from EEP, but today’s treatise may be the clearest and most direct explanation of the EEP platform. It also becomes clear, when you look at the reports of the DCPS teacher deal, that Rhee was calling plays directly from the EEP playbook (or would that be from Chancellor Klein’s), seeking to model after some of the more successful policy and rhetoric on the issue of teacher quality and the incentivization of effective teaching.
It is also incredibly difficult to quibble with these three points. Who is opposed to attracting successful students into the teaching profession? Who doesn’t believe we should reward excellence, regardless of field? And who doesn’t see the need to get our best teachers in the areas that need them the most, including historically disadvantaged schools and subject areas that have long been neglected.
But the devil remains in the details. How do we sustain — over the long term — incentives for teachers, knowing that philanthropic and government support for teacher quality efforts may wane in a year or five? When the outside support dries up, are our states and school systems positioned, financially, to continue to support those systems that are rewarding excellence?
How do we transfer that recognized excellence to the schools, classes, and students that need them the most? For decades, many have talked about National Board Certification and how National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) were the best of the best. Through federal dollars and private supports, NBCTs were financially incentivized to seek seek certification and stand as an NBCT back in their schools. But there is still much disagreement on the impact of NBCTs, both as to whether they increase student performance AFTER teachers have gone through the certification process and if NBCTs are more or less likely to relocate to the schools that may need them the most.
But the real head scratcher is the issue of attracting teachers who performed well in college. Based on the rhetoric, we are clearly looking at the Teach for America model, believing that academic superstars will make the best K-12 teachers. EEP even offers up the urban legend that most teachers come from the bottom third of college graduates (Eduflack has heard the statement time and again, but has yet to see the research that actually proves it).
Without question, we need smart teachers in our classrooms, particularly in those classes that have been struggling for far too long. But good teaching requires both book smarts and “street” smarts. Good teaching requires educators who know the subject matter (their math, science, history, or English) but also know the pedagogy behind it. Good teaching requires educators who can pivot off the “script” when faced with a challenging student or a challenging classroom. Good teaching requires educators who understand what good teaching is, moving beyond the content knowledge and making those connections between teacher and student that can last a lifetime. Such qualities cannot necessarily be taught through a textbook, an online course, or a pedagological bootcamp. But they are qualities that are non-negotiable when it comes to good teaching.
As DCPS heads down the strongest path to date on teacher quality and teacher incentivization, and as EEP and others continue to spotlight the need to recruit and reward great teachers, we can’t lose sight of what comprises great teaching. Test scores are, and always should be, an important part of how we identify effective instruction. But there are other elements — both inputs and outcomes — that need to be factored in as well.
The EEP trio is absolutely right, schools and teachers are the differentiators between a good education and a lousy one. And they couldn’t be more right when they say:
Different teachers get very different results with similar students. So as reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is considered, we should look closely at those whom we attract and retain to teach, with regard to their quality and to ensuring that they are distributed equally across our school districts. If we can do those things, we could at least make Detroit students perform like those in Boston, and make Boston students do a lot better.
Different teachers do get different results with similar students. Our goal should be identifying why those teachers in Boston are doing a better job than those in other cities. And then we need to replicate, replicate, replicate both the inputs and the outcomes. It isn’t just about how Boston attracts those teachers, it is about the training and support those teachers receive.