Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Progressive and Conservative Groups Align Around Equal Access to Teachers, While Dept. of Education Goes the Other Way
The Center for American Progress has released a new report, Giving Every Student Access to Excellent Teachers, that fits in well with much of the conversation coming from other outlets over the past week or two. The report offers a summary of why access to excellent teachers is so important, emphasizing that:
Excellent teachers—those in the top 20 percent to 25 percent of the profession in terms of student progress—produce well more than a year of student-learning growth for each year they spend instructing a cohort of students. On average, children with excellent teachers make approximately three times the progress of children who are taught by teachers in the bottom 20 percent to 25 percent. Students who start behind their peers need this level of growth consistently—not just in one out of four classes—to close persistent achievement gaps. Students in the middle of the academic-achievement continuum need it to exceed average growth rates and leap ahead to meet rising global standards.
The report is skeptical of current policies' approach to expanding access to excellent teachers. Current policies "focus intently . . . on boosting the number of excellent teachers in America’s schools" by "recruiting more high achievers into the teaching profession, creating incentives for better teachers to stay in teaching and teach less-advantaged children, and dismissing the least-effective teachers." But the report concludes that these policies are insufficient in the short term to expand access for the majority of students who need it. Thus, the report offers four proposals through which the federal government could expand access immediately:
1. Structure competitive grants to induce districts and states to shift to transformative school designs that reach more students with excellent teachers and the teams that these teachers lead. Incentivize innovation by awarding funds to districts and states with strong, sustainable plans to transform staffing models in ways that dramatically expand access to excellent teaching and make the teaching profession substantially more attractive.
2. Reorient existing formula grants to encourage transition to new classroom models that extend the reach of great teachers, both directly and through leading teaching teams. Dramatically improve student outcomes by putting excellent teachers in charge of the learning of all students in financially sustainable ways. By teaching more students directly and leading teams toward excellence, great teachers could take responsibility for all students, not just a fraction of them.
3. Create a focal point for federal research and development efforts. Spur rapid progress by gathering and disseminating evidence on policies and practices that extend the reach of excellent teachers, directly and through team leadership, and accelerate development of best-in-class digital tools.
4. Create and enforce a new civil right to excellent teachers, fueling all districts and states—not just the winners of competitive grants—to make the changes needed to reach all students with excellent teachers and their teams.
Notable in these recommendations is the alignment and misalignment with recent studies and developments. The report's first recommendation is strikingly similar to the one growing out the Fordham Institute's recent study, Right Sizing Classrooms, that advocates expanding classroom enrollments for strong teachers and shrinking them for weaker ones. For those who follow the politics of these organizations, the Fordham Institute and the Center for American Progress do not exactly see eye-to-eye. That they seem to agree on this point is worth noting.
All four of the report's recommendations, and the fourth in particular, run contrary to the Department of Education's announcement last week that it was dropping the requirement of access to effective teachers from the NCLB waiver process. As noted in my post on the change, the Department is acting contrary to existing statutory requirements, a substantial body of research, and the pleas of civil rights advocates. Rather than moving backward on access to excellent teachers, the Center for American Progress's new report proposes that this access be statutorily guaranteed as a civil right because it is so fundamental to educational opportunity.