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Investing in teachers: It’s what Americans support

09.16.14 | Learning on the EDge | 0 Comments

By William J. Bushaw

We shouldn’t be surprised that Americans want great teachers in their classrooms. That is one of the major findings of this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools.

Americans have identified a blueprint to support public education, and it’s centered on investments in classroom teachers.
Americans support more rigorous entrance requirements for men and women enrolling in teacher preparation programs; they believe the clinical component commonly known as student teaching should be a year long or longer; they overwhelmingly support national board certification for teachers similar to what most doctors earn in their area of specialty; and they support teacher evaluation approaches that emphasize improving professional skills. Actually, this commonsense approach to improving teacher quality mirrors how other nations have approached the challenge for improving public education in their countries. It’s based on long-term investments in those who teach.

But can these ideas be implemented in the U.S.? The answer is yes.

Raising the bar for teacher candidates — The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is implementing new standards — including standards that address teacher candidate quality, recruitment, and selectivity. In order for a teacher preparation program to be nationally accredited, entering students must meet minimum grade point averages and demonstrate other academic abilities. Once implemented, these standards will help ensure that America’s prospective teachers will be drawn from the academic top half of our graduating high school classes.

Recruiting — A push to raise entrance requirements must be accompanied by a comprehensive nationwide teacher recruitment program starting in high school. For more than 20 years, PDK International has sponsored the Future Educators Association®, the only national program introducing the teaching profession to high school students. This year, the program was redesigned to provide school districts, in partnership with colleges and universities, an opportunity to attract outstanding high school students to teaching — students who can meet the new rigorous entrance requirements established by CAEP.

Replacing student teaching — In the September 2014 issue of Kappan magazine, Ron Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, thoughtfully outlined his ideas for a teacher residency (“Residency: Can it transform teaching the way it did medicine?”, p. 30). He proposed establishing a one-year residency program for new teachers in the U.S. Such residencies would replace student teaching and provide a more supportive and comprehensive ramp before a new teacher takes full responsibility for his or her classroom.

Board certification — National board certification for teachers is already available, and over 100,000 educators have met the demanding requirements to be a National Board Certified Teacher. This program requires applicants to demonstrate their teaching knowledge and skills and has served the profession well. It is currently under an important redesign that will make it even better in the future.

Teacher evaluation — How teachers are evaluated is an important component to teacher quality, so it’s not surprising that Americans have opinions about teacher appraisal. A plan popular among some state and federal policy makers uses student standardized test results as a significant component in evaluating teachers, in some places comprising up to 50% of the evaluation. However, more than 60% of Americans do not support this approach, and their opposition is trending upward. At the same time, Americans said they believe teacher evaluation should be primarily designed to help teachers improve their ability to teach. If we listen carefully to the opinions of Americans, we need to research better ways to evaluate teachers and principals that are not overly reliant upon how students perform on standardized tests.

Upon analyzing the PDK/Gallup poll results each year, I’m always impressed by Americans’ approach to public education. Once again, Americans have identified a blueprint to support public education, and it is centered on investments in classroom teachers. That is not a quick fix, but other countries have had success with this strategy, resulting in unmistakable gains in student achievement. Many programs designed to help teachers improve their skills already exist. We just need the determination to implement these programs that Americans support.

About William J. Bushaw

WILLAM J. BUSHAW is chief executive officer of PDK International, which publishes Phi Delta Kappan magazine.

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